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Extraterrestrial Form of Hot, Dense Ice Observed Forming in Lab

In Kurt Vonnegut's 1963 novel "Cat's Cradle," there's a fictional substance known as ice-nine. A special type of water imagined by the science-fiction author, ice-nine not only has the ability to remain solid at room temperature, but also can alter ordinary water molecules to form a solid as well. Through an instance of human stupidity, ice-nine spreads across Earth, killing off just about all life on the planet. Ice-nine doesn't exist, fortunately. But besides ice, liquid water and steam — the three phases of water that we're familiar with — there actually are a lot of other forms. These less commonly known iterations include numerous frozen versions, with crystals forming odd geometric shapes at low temperatures and/or high pressures. One of these is ice VII, AKA ice-seven, a super-dense form of ice found on our solar system's giant outer planets, their icy moons and even theoretically formed by asteroid collisions in space. Ice VII is also a form of "hot ice," and due to its density, it can exist at temperatures higher than that of boiling water here on Earth. Ice VII isn't something you would find on Earth — at least, not until recently, when Stanford University researchers managed to make some of the stuff. At the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, scientists used the world's most powerful X-ray laser to aim a green-colored beam at a sample of liquid water. The beam generated a force that compressed the water to a pressure more than 50,000 times greater than Earth's atmosphere. As the beam compressed the sample, a separate beam from a device called the X-Ray Free Electron Laser exposed the ice to a series of bright pulses that lasted only a femtosecond — one-quadrillionth of a second. The strobe captured images of water changing into ice VII, with molecules bonding into rod shapes, rather than the spheres that scientists had predicted based on past research. The findings were published in the journal Physical Review Letters.

Read More: HowStuffWorks

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