When you think of ice, you probably picture the cubes in your freezer, or perhaps an iceberg or 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 kinds of ice in their lab, thanks to a collection of super-powered lasers.
The kind of ice we’re most familiar with is a specific type called Ice I. Ice has almost two dozen other types, like Ice II, which forms when you start applying pressure to normal ice. With more pressure you’d get Ice XV, then Ice VIII, then Ice X, and so on. You could find even more different varieties of ice at different pressures and temperatures, and these permutations have distinct appearances and properties.
So to find some of the more exotic types of ice, researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California constructed a very complicated experiment: They would trap water inside a tightly confined space and blast it with high-powered lasers. All together, the researchers used six lasers at the University of Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics to get the job done.
In only a fraction of a second, those lasers heated the water droplet to around 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit and compressed it to over a million times the pressure of the Earth’s atmosphere. The result created a unique compound that the researchers are calling Ice XVIII.
Ice XVIII exists nowhere on Earth—except very briefly in that lab in Rochester—but scientists suspect it may be able to form on giant icy planets like Uranus and Neptune. These planets are made up mostly of water, and due to their size, they could likely reach the same kinds of temperatures and pressures the LLNL researchers attained in their lab.
If that’s the case—and it very likely is—then this experiment can help us learn more about Uranus, Neptune, and other gas giant planets in our galaxy. Thanks to the test, scientists will have a much better understanding of what Ice XVIII looks like and how it behaves.
It’s possible the study could resolve some mysteries surrounding these planets’ magnetic fields. Both Uranus and Neptune have unusual magnetic fields—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 under the surface, that could affect their magnetic fields.
Originally posted on Popular Mechanics