The ice giants of our solar system are strange worlds of extremes … if you were born at one of the poles of Uranus, for example, you would be middle-aged at sunset and a very old, 84-year-old before that if the time came for a second sun and by the time of a second dawn on Neptune, a dark and cold world, ravaged by supersonic winds that can reach up to 1,500 miles per hour, you would have been 165 But their true stories that go back billions of years, remain locked in their water.
“Hydrogen and oxygen are the most common elements in the Universe, along with helium. It is easy to determine that water is one of the major constituents of many celestial bodies. Ganymede and Europe, the satellites of Jupiter and Enceladus, satellites of Saturn, represent the surface “Neptune and Uranus are also composed mostly of water,” said Federico Grasselli and Stefano Baroni – scientists from SISSA in Trieste and UCLA who paved the way for the interior modeling of Uranus ice giants. and Neptune, thanks to computer simulations in their waters on microscopic scales to unlock billions dating back billions of years.
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New theoretical method
A new theoretical method allows them to analyze thermal and electrical processes occurring under physical conditions that are often impossible to reproduce experimentally, with a much easier and lower cost approach. In this research, researchers have analyzed the conduction of electricity and water heat under extreme conditions of temperature and pressure, such as those that occur inside giant ice planets, as well as on many exoplanets outside it. Investigating the phenomena that occur beneath their surface is, in fact, essential to understanding the evolution of these celestial bodies, establishing their epoch, and shedding light on the geometry and evolution of their magnetic fields.
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“Our knowledge of planetary interiors” – they add – “is based on the features of the planet’s surface and magnetic field, which themselves are influenced by the physical characteristics of their internal structure, such as energy transport, mass and charge through the interior. This is why we have developed a theoretical and computational method to calculate the thermal and electrical conductivity of water, in the phases and conditions occurring in such celestial bodies, ranging from shear simulations to the microscopic dynamics of several hundred atoms and “The inclusion of the quantum nature of electrons without any further ad-hoc approximation. By simulating the atomic scale for fractions of a nanosecond, we are able to understand what happened to large masses at the time scales of billions of years.”
Superionic – “No Ice or Water We Are Used to on Earth”
The researchers analyzed three different phases of water: ice, liquid and superionic, under extreme conditions of temperature and pressure, typical of the inner layers of these planets. Black, hot, Superionic ice is a strange form of water that can make up most of the giant icy planets in the entire universe.
The discovery of superionic ice, reports Joshua Skokol for Quanta who was not involved in the study, first theoretically predicted more than 30 years ago, “potentially solves the enigma of what icy giant planets like Uranus and Neptune have created.” “They are now thought to have gaseous, mixed-chemical outer shells, a liquid layer of ionized water beneath it, a solid layer of superionic ice that encompasses most of their interior, and rocky centers.”
“It’s really a new state of affairs”
Supernatant ice is not a new water phase says physicist Livia Bove of the French National Center for Scientific Research and Pierre and Marie Curie University, “It’s really a new state of matter,” she said, “which is quite spectacular. “
Grasselli and Baron explain: “In such exotic physical conditions, we cannot think of ice as we are accustomed to. Even water is actually different, denser, with several molecules separated into positive and negative ions, thus carrying an electric charge.
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“Superionic water lies somewhere between the liquid and solid phases: the oxygen atoms of the H2O molecule are organized in a crystalline lattice, while the hydrogen atoms disperse freely as in a charged liquid.” The study of thermal and electric currents created by water in these three different forms is essential to shed light on many unresolved issues.
Existence of a frozen Nucleus
Both scientists also state that “internal electric currents are based on the planet’s magnetic field. “If we understand how the former comes about, we can learn a lot more about the latter.” And not only that. “The coefficients of thermal and electrical transport dictate the history of the planet, as well as when it formed, how it cools. It is therefore important to analyze them with the right tools, like the one we developed. In particular, the heat conduction properties that from our study allow us to hypothesize that the existence of a frozen nucleus may explain the abnormally low brightness of Uranium as a result of an extremely low heat flux from its interior to the surface. “
Moreover, the electrical conductivity found for the superionic phase is much greater than assumed in previous magnetic field generation models in Uranus and Neptune. Since superionic water is thought to dominate the dense and slow planetary layers below the region of convective fluids where their magnetic field is generated, this new evidence may have a major impact on studying the geometry and evolution of the magnetic fields of the two planets.
Daily Galaxy, Sam Cabot, through SISSA and Quanta
Credit for the image: NASA ice world