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  • Laser experiment hints at strange in-between ice
    A proposed form of ice acts like a cross between a solid and a liquid. Now, a new study strengthens the case that the strange state of matter really exists. Hints of the special phase, called superionic ice, appeared in water ice exposed to high pressures and temperatures, researchers from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California report. Although such unusual ice isn't found naturally on Earth, it might lurk deep inside frozen worlds such as Uranus and Neptune.

    Normal ice is composed of water molecules, each made of an oxygen atom bonded to two hydrogen atoms. As water freezes, those molecules link up to form a solid. But superionic ice is made up of ions, which are atoms with a positive or negative electric charge. Within the material, hydrogen ions flow freely through a solid crystal of oxygen ions.

    At extremely high pressures, familiar substances like water can behave in unusual ways. Working with a sample of ice that was crushed between two diamonds, the researchers used a laser to create a shock wave that ploughed through the ice, boosting the pressure even more.

    At first, the density and temperature of the ice ramped up smoothly as the pressure increased. But at around 1.9 million times atmospheric pressure and 4,800 Kelvin, the scientists observed a jump in density and temperature. That jump, they say, is evidence that superionic ice melted at that point. Although we normally think of ice as being cold, at high pressures, superionic ice can form even when heated. The melting occurred at just the conditions that theoretical calculations predict such ice would melt.

    The electrical conductivity of the material provided another hint of superionic ice: The level of conductivity was consistent with expectations for that phase of matter. Whereas metals conduct electricity via the motion of electrons, in superionic ice, the flowing hydrogen ions transmit electricity.

    Science News / Nature Physics    February 05, 2018