Superionic ice made using lasers is both solid and liquid at the same time

Scientists believe this new state of water will help them understand ice giant planets like Uranus and Neptune.

For the first time, scientists have created a form of water that is as liquid as it is solid with some help from a giant laser. This technique of "flash-freezing" has demonstrated the making of "superionic ice" for the first time.

Shockwaves from a laser were used to compress and heat water to a whopping amount of pressure (between 100–400 gigapascals) at temperatures of 2,000-3,000 Kelvin (1,726-2,726 degrees Celcius).

Under these extreme conditions, the water droplet solidified in just a few nanoseconds. The nanometer-sized ice grains of superionic ice made by the process were measured using a technique called X-ray crystallography, a technique used to study the molecular structure of a crystal by looking at how crystalline structures scatter X-rays. The ice formed was black and hot. A cube of this ice would weigh four times the normal weight.

Superionic ice made using lasers is both solid and liquid at the same time

An artist illustration of the superionic ice structure. Image credit: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

According to the study, published in the journal Nature, the X-ray diffraction gave scientists a peek into the "compressibility" of ice in this new form.

"Water is known to have many different crystalline structures known as ice Ih, II, III, up to XVII," Federica Coppari, co-lead author of the paper, from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, said in a statement. "So, we propose to call the new f.c.c. solid form 'ice XVIII'."

Giant lasers focused on the water sample, sitting on the front plate. Image credit: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Giant lasers focused on the water sample, sitting on the front plate. Image credit: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Some scientists believe that superionic ice exists on planets like Uranus and Neptune, while others have contrasting opinions.

The data from the new research has profound implications for how we understand the interior structures of giant icy planets in our solar system. Since superionic ice is ultimately a solid, the idea of these planets having a uniform and rapidly convecting fluid layer no longer holds.

That leaves a pool of doubt and a room for a breakthrough in the worlds of both chemistry and astronomy.

For now, we're left guessing just quickly this can be compacted into a portable, instant ice-maker, and whether superionic ice sticks to one's tongue any more or less than regular ice.

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