Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Ice X, An Exotic Discovery


Ice is a mystery, and a fascinating material. For planets closest to the Sun, water ice dominates, but farther into the solar system, other types of ice exist.

Next time you put some ice in a drink, take a sip and let your thoughts reach beyond your glass, because ice is actually a unique and exotic form of water, and its only ONE of several solid states that can exist. Ice exists throughout the solar system, from the planets closest to the Sun, to the far reaches of the mysterious Oort cloud, a vast and diffuse wall of comets. From your freezer to the outer solar system, entire planets are made of the stuff or as partial mixtures of ice and rock combined. Ice occurs as polar caps and permafrost and may persist inside the coldest darkest craters of otherwise rocky bodies. Ice may be ancient, present since the birth of the solar system, or young and pristine; recently condensed from liquid. It may have migrated, molecule by molecule.

The ice we know on earth, is Ice I, but water has more than a dozen solid states, only one of which is familiar to us. There are other exotic solid forms of ice that are not cold - I repeat NOT COLD. This what is known as Ice X.  This 'hot' ice is more dense, thicker and heavier than Earth's cold Ice l. It takes an extreme amount of pressure, but water can become a hot ice, and it does exist. Described as a cubic crystalline form from liquid water, a hot ice can be created under very high pressure, when water turns into solid states denser than both ice and liquid water, just as carbon transforms into diamond under extreme pressures.  

These bizarre ice solids can be found on alien planets, or in science labs, made under extreme pressure where H20 is crushed and its molecules are forced into a crystal solid. This means if you flew over one of these Ice X planets and got a good look, you would see a heavy clear plane of solid water, and you could land on it, but it wouldn't be cold. On another planet, you could sink to the bottom of an ocean and find it far underneath, hitting a floor of solid water. These are worlds of compressed H2O, of Ice X and exotic 'hot ice' states. There are also other lower grades of solid ice like 'Ice VII'. Ice VII is just a little less dense made in labs using pressures above 3 GPa, and by lowering its temperature to room temperature, or by decompressing (D20) ice VI below 95K. The higher the pressure the higher the number they give the Ice, but Ice X or Ice 10 needs about (100K 62 GPa) to be made. 

Scientists think that Ice 7 might make up the ocean floor of Titan, one of Saturns moons, as well as extrasolar planets such as Gliese 436b and GJ 1214. Both of these planets are largely made of water.

Are you still enjoying your drink? Maybe you can get a refill before I continue, but all kidding aside, its pretty interesting to think something we took for granted like ice is actually not everything we thought it could be. If you really want to go back in time you'll also find out ice was originally formed from a solar nebula. Our sun, like other stars formed from a cold interstellar cloud of hydrogen, helium molecules and dust. As this nebula cooled, different elements condensed out into grains or ices, depending on their "condensation" temperature. Rocks and metals were formed and as the nebula continued to cool, carbon grains and ices of water, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and ammonia condensed out. The line between the areas where rocks and metals condense and where carbon and ice grains begin to condense is known as the "frost line." The exact location of the frost line is still debated, but it is thought to be around 4 AU, between the asteroid belt and the orbit of Jupiter. (Earth is 1 AU from the sun; Jupiter is 5 AU from the sun). 

Well, as you can see one mystery seems to beget another as I uncover debates like the frost line. In any case, Ice X is a new discovery for me, that I thought I would share with you, over an icy drink. So lets make a toast to Ice X and other exotic mysteries. As we join our glasses together I say, let's drink to the future. Lets all focus on new exotic mysteries. Maybe we all can see it one day. Maybe. Anything is possible.