Alien ice on Earth

From Eurekalert

Only two more steps to ICE NINE!~ctm

Stanford scientists discover how dense, extraterrestrial ice can form in just billionths of a second

Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences

Stanford researchers have for the first time captured the freezing of water, molecule-by-molecule, into a strange, dense form called ice VII (“ice seven”), found naturally in otherworldly environments, such as when icy planetary bodies collide.

In addition to helping scientists better understand those remote worlds, the findings – published online July 11 in Physical Review Letters – could reveal how water and other substances undergo transitions from liquids to solids. Learning to manipulate those transitions might open the way someday to engineering materials with exotic new properties.

“These experiments with water are the first of their kind, allowing us to witness a fundamental disorder-to-order transition in one of the most abundant molecules in the universe,” said study lead author Arianna Gleason, a postdoctoral fellow at Los Alamos National Laboratory and a visiting scientist in the Extreme Environments Laboratory of Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences.

Scientists have long studied how materials undergo phase changes between gas, liquid and solid states. Phase changes can happen rapidly, however, and on the tiny scale of mere atoms. Previous research has struggled to capture the moment-to-moment action of phase transitions, and instead worked backward from stable solids in piecing together the molecular steps taken by predecessor liquids.

“There have been a tremendous number of studies on ice because everyone wants to understand its behavior,” said study senior author Wendy Mao, an associate professor of geological sciences and a Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Sciences (SIMES) principal investigator. “What our new study demonstrates, and which hasn’t been done before, is the ability to see the ice structure form in real time.”


Catching ice in the act


Those timescales became achievable thanks to the Linac Coherent Light Source, the world’s most powerful X-ray laser located at the nearby SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. There, the science team beamed an intense, green-colored laser at a small target containing a sample of liquid water. The laser instantly vaporized layers of diamond on one side of the target, generating a rocket-like force that compressed the water to pressures exceeding 50,000 times that of Earth’s atmosphere at sea level.

As the water compacted, a separate beam from an instrument called the X-ray Free Electron Laser arrived in a series of bright pulses only a femtosecond, or a quadrillionth of a second, long. Akin to camera flashes, this strobing X-ray laser snapped a set of images revealing the progression of molecular changes, flip book-style, while the pressurized water crystallized into ice VII. The phase change took just 6 billionths of a second, or nanoseconds. Surprisingly, during this process, the water molecules bonded into rod shapes, and not spheres as theory predicted.

The platform developed for this study – combining high pressure with snapshot images – could help researchers probe the myriad ways water freezes, depending on pressure and temperature. Under the conditions on our planet’s surface, water crystallizes in only one way, dubbed ice Ih (“ice one-H”) or simply “hexagonal ice,” whether in glaciers or ice cube trays in the freezer.

Delving into extraterrestrial ice types, including ice VII, will help scientists model such remote environments as comet impacts, the internal structures of potentially life-supporting, water-filled moons like Jupiter’s Europa, and the dynamics of jumbo, rocky, oceanic exoplanets called super-Earths.

“Any icy satellite or planetary interior is intimately connected to the object’s surface,” Gleason said. “Learning about these icy interiors will help us understand how the worlds in our solar system formed and how at least one of them, so far as we know, came to have all the necessary characteristics for life.”


Other co-authors on the study include Cindy Bolme of Los Alamos National Laboratory; Eric Galtier, Hae Ja Lee and Eduardo Granados of the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory; Dan Dolan, Chris Seagle and Tom Ao of Sandia National Laboratories; and Suzanne Ali, Amy Lazicki, Damian Swift and Peter Celliers of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Funding was provided by the National Science Foundation, the Los Alamos National Laboratory, the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, Fusion Energy Science and the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.

44 thoughts on “Alien ice on Earth

    • Waiting for someone to ask what the heck that means – even though we could all reasonably called “geeks” here, I’m sure several have not read the book. (One of the few that I have dumped over the years, BTW – at least make your apocalyptic fiction plausible.)

  1. ….into rod shapes and not spheres as the theory had predicted.
    so they need to revise the theory?

    • Naw. They’ll just redefine “sphere” to include all dimensional objects where at least one cross section is circular. Right all

      • Exactly.
        How many Microsoft programmers does it take to change a light bulb?
        If the light bulb fails to perform as expected, they simply redefine the performance standard to, “Dark”.

      • Any software engineer would know that (light bulb malfunction) is a “hardware failure”. Produce an appropriate error message, and move on.

      • Every hardware engineer knows full well that without providing a sensor circuit with a testable bit value, the software engineer would not even know if the light bulb was “on”

      • Hardware device, hardware sensor, hardware circuit. I guess we know who is changing that lightbulb, now don’t we 😉

    • so apparently a coin flip as to the shape had as good a chance of being right … when the possible outcomes are A and B and you pick B and it turns out to be A then you don’t just have a bad theory … you don’t understand what you are studying … make it a firing offense after 3 bad theories … we would see alot less nonsense if their jobs depended on getting 1 out 3 tries right …

  2. Surprisingly, during this process, the water molecules bonded into rod shapes, and not spheres as theory predicted.

    So the science wasn’t settled!

    • The science is never settled.
      This is real science..
      It’s the best thing about this site.

      • And when you look at the quality of the replies so far…….????? Somewhat less than scientific.

      • Richard B
        Agreed – but the level of money-grubbing – aka climate science – elsewhere [with honourable [With a ‘u’. Yes, I live to the right of The Pond] exceptions] is, bluntly, shockingly poor.
        Science – as a human edifice, if I may – has been set back by hucksters and bottom-feeding charlatans in climatology and elsewhere. Much medical science published in the last decades appears to have – some – questions to answer. Is big pharma involved?
        The “Social sciences” are just Lenin’s way of creating outsiders, who may be ignored, ostracised, transported, or eliminated – as is fitting for the watermelon in charge [between purges (c) Stalin] that month.
        Auto – now self-identified as a target for the Red Army of activists [Momentum and others] propelled by the private-property-denying, junk-debt-fuelled nightmare of a Corbyn-O’Donnell-Lady Nugee (aka Emily ‘White Van Man’ Thornberry) administration.
        All these non-Brits [by nature, not nurture, nor ancestry, generally] seek to impoverish the UK, reduce its power [hard and soft] and, effectively, make it a satellite of some socialist superstate.
        So be it. I am a target – or will soon become one.

  3. femtosecond – (one quadrillionth of a second), is that longer than CO2 traps heat on Mars?

    • You do know that there is not enough CO2 to make Mars warm? Mars has 600 Pa at the surface, which is about 0.6% of pressure at the Earth. No water. The partial pressure of CO2 is larger in Mars, but not enough to compensate other differences, mostly distance from the Sun.

  4. As i have said before – We should spend much much more time doing experiments rather than just talking.
    Please pass me the gin and the lemon.

  5. I do not know what to think. I know that H2O reaches it highest state of entropy at 1degree C. That state is locked in at O degrees C. I wonder what the density is of Ice-7. Interesting article tho.

  6. I did not know that water compacted in outer space ….
    and a sphere under high acceleration might deform into a rod shape …
    but this is interesting , to say the least .

    • Water will compact any place it is placed under pressure (as will any substance). Gravitational forces are not the only pressures exerted in space. Impact collisions also produce high pressures. However, impacts also generate a lot of heat so the colliding bodies better be damned cold. Ice VII triple point is 120 °K (slightly below where LOX) forms and at 20 (earth) atmospheres, but has a surprisingly large range for stability.

      • The experiment does not seem to be very “space” like. Where in space does liquid water occur ? At that pressure ? I don’t dismiss their finding , but it would be nice if they would explain how ice VII is formed in space .

      • For the sake of clarity it would have been nice if the authors had been more precise in their language. I might think “in space” means to them “not on earth” or “other space base objects”. I very much doubt they meant free floating molecules removed from any celestial bodies. The definition of space is nebulous (pun intended) as once 2 molecules come together is the volume they occupy is no longer “space”?
        Lets leave the fine parsing and semantics to the lawyers and poets.

  7. “found naturally in otherworldly environments, such as when icy planetary bodies collide.”

  8. In the words of James Taylor: “Bokanon, Bokanon boys. I’ve got those Steeeeammm Roooolller Bluuuuuuuuuuuuuuues!”

    • I’ve not yet read “Cat’s Cradle” so perhaps I don’t understand the connection between Bokanon and JT.

      • “misogyny” – hatred, dislike, or mistrust of women, or prejudice against women.
        Not sure how you equate women like shoes on sale, to I hate women. Pretty sure that type of logical analysis does not help our cause either.

  9. ugh, official science always tries to steal the science of those they mock behind the scenes.
    4th state of water has been around a long time. And mocked. But throw in lots of money and an xray machine and all of a sudden its now valid.
    NASA also took credit for Birkeland currents that were hypothesised over 100 years ago, and called them “loops” to get around confirming part of EU theory is in fact correct

  10. For what it’s worth, the lowest pressure at which Ice-VII can be (theoretically) expected to be stable is 2.1 Gigapascals, the equivalent of 21,000 atmospheres, or the pressure at the bottom of a 117 mile thick glacier. The 50,000 atmospheres pressure is needed to produce it at the high temperatures resulting from vaporizing diamond with a laser.

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