Story at a glance

  • Researchers discovered a new form of ice called superionic ice.
  • When conducting an experiment, researchers were able to create a more dense and darker colored ice when applying extreme pressure to high speed X-ray beams.
  • The discovery of superionic ice is similar to what was previously known to be deep inside planets like Neptune and Uranus.

Most people are familiar with the three forms of water — liquid, gas and ice — but researchers appear to have found another form that involves diamonds and produces a superionic ice form. 

Researchers from the University of Chicago and the Carnegie Institute of Washington published research that revealed using extremely high temperatures and applying intense pressure can create, “weird, hot, black ice,” according to an analysis by The Washington Post.

Researchers explained that when pressure is applied by a massive accelerator that drives electrons to extremely high speeds, close to the speed of light, beams of X-rays are created. When those X-rays are squeezed between two pieces of diamond, the hardest substance on Earth, the heat created from that pressure produces superionic ice.

It turns out that superionic ice is less dense, but darker in color because it interacts with light differently, producing a form of ice that is literally hot and black.


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One of the researchers behind the ice experiment, Vitali Prakapenka, explained in a news release, “Imagine a cube, a lattice with oxygen atoms at the corners connected by hydrogen. When it transforms into this new superionic phase, the lattice expands, allowing the hydrogen atoms to migrate around while the oxygen atoms remain steady in their positions. It’s kind of like a solid oxygen lattice sitting in an ocean of floating hydrogen atoms.”

Ice similar in form to superionic ice was previously known to be deep inside planets like Neptune and Uranus, and scientists had only been able to see it for a brief instant through a droplet of water. But Prakapenka’s new research reveals a new way to reliably create, sustain and examine superionic ice.

Mapping the exact conditions where different phases of ice occur is important in order to understand how planet formation happens and even where to look for life on other planets.  

The discovery is also significant because it hints at the role magnetic fields play in planets, which also have a huge effect on their ability to sustain life. Researchers said that Earth’s magnetic fields protect us from harmful incoming radiation and cosmic rays, and understanding how magnetic fields are formed could guide scientists as they search for stars and planets in other solar systems that might host life.

The quest to understand what exactly consists of Earth’s deep layers continues, with humans only having managed to dig about more than 7 miles beneath Earth’s surface before equipment began to melt due to the extreme heat and pressure.


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Published on Nov 23, 2021