Millot, Coppari, Hamel, Krauss (LLNL)
When you think of ice, you can probably imagine the cubes in your freezer, or maybe an iceberg or a frozen pond. But ice can take all kinds of different forms, and recently, a group of scientists managed to recreate one of the most exotic types of ice in their laboratory, thanks to a collection of high-powered lasers.
The type of ice we are most familiar with is a specific type called Ice I. Ice has almost two dozen other types, such as Ice II, which forms when you start applying pressure to normal ice. With more pressure you would get Ice XV, then Ice VIII, then Ice X, and so on. You can find even more different varieties of ice at different pressures and temperatures, and these permutations have different appearances and properties.
Then, to find some of the most exotic types of ice, researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California built a very complicated experiment: they would trap water within a tightly confined space and destroy it with high-powered lasers. All together, the researchers used six lasers at the Energy Energy Laboratory of the University of Rochester to perform the work.
In just a fraction of a second, those lasers heated the drop of water to about 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit and compressed it to more than a million times the pressure of the Earth's atmosphere. The result created a unique compound that researchers call Ice XVIII.
Ice XVIII does not exist anywhere on Earth, except very briefly in that laboratory in Rochester, but scientists suspect that it can form on giant icy planets like Uranus and Neptune. These planets are mainly composed of water and, because of their size, they could probably reach the same types of temperatures and pressures that the LLNL researchers reached in their laboratory.
If that is the case, and it is very likely that it is, then this experiment can help us learn more about Uranus, Neptune and other giant gas planets in our galaxy. Thanks to the test, the scientists will better understand how the ice XVIII looks and how it behaves.
It is possible that the study can solve some mysteries surrounding the magnetic fields of these planets. Both Uranus and Neptune have unusual magnetic fields – the Uranus field is completely upside down, for example – and some of that unusual behavior could be explained by Ice XVIII. If Uranus and Neptune have a substantial quality of this form of ice buried somewhere below the surface, that could affect their magnetic fields.