Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Is salt the key to unlocking the interiors of Neptune and Uranus?

23.06.2015

The interiors of several of our Solar System's planets and moons are icy, and ice has been found on distant extrasolar planets, as well. But these bodies aren't filled with the regular kind of water ice that you avoid on the sidewalk in winter. The ice that's found inside these objects must exist under extreme pressures and high-temperatures, and potentially contains salty impurities, too.

New research from a team including Carnegie's Alexander Goncharov focuses on the physics underlying the formation of the types of ice that are stable under the paradoxical-seeming conditions likely to be found in planetary interiors. Their work, published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could challenge current ideas about the physical properties found inside icy planetary bodies.


Pictured is an ice VII figure.

Courtesy of Zamaan Raza

When water (H2O) freezes into ice, the molecules are bound together in a crystalline lattice held together by hydrogen bonds. Due to the versatility of these hydrogen bonds, ice reveals a striking diversity of at least 16 different crystalline structures. But most of these structures could not exist in the interiors of frozen planets and moons.

Under high pressures, the variety of possible ice structures shrinks, just as the space between its hydrogen-bonded oxygen atoms does as the ice grows denser. When pressure is increased to more than about 20,000 times Earth's atmosphere (2 gigapascals), this number of possible ice structures is reduced to just two -- ice VII and ice VIII. Ordinary ice has a hexagonal structure. Ice VII has a cubic structure. Ice VIII has a tetragonal structure.

As the pressure increases further, both forms of ice transform to another phase called ice X. This happens at pressures around 600,000 times Earth's atmosphere (60 gigapascals), which would be comparable to the pressure conditions found in the interior of an icy-cored planet, like Neptune or Uranus. Ice X has a whole new kind of symmetrical lattice structure. It's called non-molecular ice, because the water molecule is broken apart and the hydrogen atoms are shared between neighboring oxygens.

Under similar pressures but higher temperatures, it has been suggested that ice X could possibly transform into a phase of ice that can conduct electricity as hydrogen atoms move freely around the oxygen lattice. But how such ice would be formed at the temperatures found in planetary interiors has remained mysterious.

Because the interiors of icy planetary bodies might also be salty, due to interactions between the ice and the surrounding rocks or a liquid ocean, lead author Livia Eleonora Bove of the CNRS & Université Pierre et Marie Curie in France and the Ecole Polytechnique Federal de Lausanne in Switzerland and the rest of the team studied the effects of salts on the formation of the ice X from ice VII.

They found that the inclusion of salts in ice VII -- both ordinary sodium chloride (NaCl) that you have on your table and the similarly structured lithium chloride (LiCl) -- pushes the formation of ice X to occur at higher and higher pressures. Such salts could easily have been incorporated as impurities when matter accreted during the planetary formation process and be present in rocks or liquid water with which the core ice interacts.

'These findings could challenge our current thinking on the physics occurring in the interiors of icy planetary bodies,' Goncharov said. 'All of our current assumptions are based on the behavior of ice without any impurities.'

The presence of salt could also possible create the conditions under which the theorized electrically conducting type of ice would form. If so, this could explain the magnetic fields of Uranus and Neptune, the team proposed.

The other team members were: Richard Gaal and Philippe Gillet of the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne; and Zamaan Raza, Adriaan-Alexander Ludl, Stefan Klotz, and Antonino Marco Saitta of the Université Pierre et Marie Curie (Raza also of Linköping University in Sweden).

###

This work was supported by the Swiss NSF, the French state funds managed by ANR within the Blanc International programme PACS, the Investissements d'Avenir programme, within the framework of the Cluster of Excellence MATISSE led by Sorbonne Universities.

The Carnegie Institution for Science (carnegiescience.edu) is a private, nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington, D.C., with six research departments throughout the U.S. Since its founding in 1902, the Carnegie Institution has been a pioneering force in basic scientific research. Carnegie scientists are leaders in plant biology, developmental biology, astronomy, materials science, global ecology, and Earth and planetary science.

Alex Goncharov | EurekAlert!

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht NASA detects solar flare pulses at Sun and Earth
17.11.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

nachricht Pluto's hydrocarbon haze keeps dwarf planet colder than expected
16.11.2017 | University of California - Santa Cruz

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: A “cosmic snake” reveals the structure of remote galaxies

The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.

Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...

Im Focus: Visual intelligence is not the same as IQ

Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.

That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...

Im Focus: Novel Nano-CT device creates high-resolution 3D-X-rays of tiny velvet worm legs

Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.

During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....

Im Focus: Researchers Develop Data Bus for Quantum Computer

The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.

Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...

Im Focus: Wrinkles give heat a jolt in pillared graphene

Rice University researchers test 3-D carbon nanostructures' thermal transport abilities

Pillared graphene would transfer heat better if the theoretical material had a few asymmetric junctions that caused wrinkles, according to Rice University...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Ecology Across Borders: International conference brings together 1,500 ecologists

15.11.2017 | Event News

Road into laboratory: Users discuss biaxial fatigue-testing for car and truck wheel

15.11.2017 | Event News

#Berlin5GWeek: The right network for Industry 4.0

30.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA detects solar flare pulses at Sun and Earth

17.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

NIST scientists discover how to switch liver cancer cell growth from 2-D to 3-D structures

17.11.2017 | Health and Medicine

The importance of biodiversity in forests could increase due to climate change

17.11.2017 | Studies and Analyses

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>