Scientist Black Superionic Ice Lab Neptune Uranus
Photo credit: Vitali Prakapenka
University of Chicago and Carnegie scientists have managed to recreate a new phase of water, called superionic ice, that forms at extremely high temperatures and pressures, similar to the conditions found deep inside planets like Neptune and Uranus. This was made possible using the Advanced Photon Source, a gigantic accelerator at Argonne National Laboratory that drives electrons to extremely high speeds close to the speed of light to generate beams of X-rays. Read more for two videos and additional information.

These samples were then squeezed between two pieces of diamond to simulate the intense pressures, before lasers are shot through them to heat the sample up. Lastly, they send a beam of X-rays through the sample, and then assemble the arrangement of the atoms inside based on how the X-rays scatter off the sample.

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It was a surprise—everyone thought this phase wouldn’t appear until you are at much higher pressures than where we first find it. But we were able to very accurately map the properties of this new ice, which constitutes a new phase of matter, thanks to several powerful tools,” said Vitali Prakapenka, study co-author, a University of Chicago research professor and beamline scientist at the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory.