Pounding particles to create Neptune's water in the lab

Jul 22, 2010
Neptune

We know 'icy' Neptune is partially comprised of water molecules but until now we have had little means to test how water behaves in the extreme conditions that Neptune presents.

This is about to change as an international group of physicists draw up plans to use the new Facility for Antiprotons and Ion Research (FAIR) in Germany, which will be ready in 2015, to expose to heavy ion beams and thereby generate the same level of pressure on the water molecules that they experience within the very inhospitable core of Neptune.

The new plans being published in today, Thursday 22 July, explain how using high energy uranium beams in the future German facility is going to enable researchers to create conditions that push water molecules into a 'superionic' state and thereby observe water in conditions never before replicated.

The predicted 'superionic' state is an exotic hybrid phase of water composed of an oxygen lattice and a hydrogen liquid which under ambient conditions form stable H2O molecules in an ice lattice or in a liquid.

A total of 15 European, Russian and Chinese researchers from GSI Helmholzzentrun fur Schwerionenforschung, Universitat Rostock, Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha, Universite Paris-Sud, the Russian Academy of Sciences, and the Chinese Academy of Science explain how the use of the new heavy ion beams can simulate pressures up to several million times greater than anything on the surface of the Earth.

The researchers suggest that research into this 'superionic' state could be of paramount importance for the understanding of the magnetic field of Neptune and Uranus, which are very different from that of the Earth's.

The researchers cite the past decade's progress in the technology of strongly bunched, well focused, high quality intense heavy ion beams as the enabling force for this experiment - such beams will be made available when construction of FAIR is complete.

The heavy ion beams, which will be generated by the new particle accelerator at FAIR, will have advantages over other methods of exposing particles to high pressure, such as high explosives, gas guns, lasers, or pulsed power, because they will be able to apply a more uniform and more targeted pressure on the water molecules.

The researchers write, "The FAIR accelerator facilities will provide very powerful high quality heavy ion beams with unprecedented intensities. Extensive theoretical work on beam matter heating over the past decade has shown that the ion beams that will be generated at FAIR will be a very unique and very efficient tool to study High Energy Density Particles in those regions of the parameter space that are not so easy to access with the traditional method."

Explore further: Vortex of electrons provides unprecedented information on magnetic quantum states in solids

More information: "Ultra high compression of water using intense heavy ion beams: Laboratory planetary physics" Tahir N et al 2010 New J. Phys. 12 073022. iopscience.iop.org/1367-2630/12/7/073022

Related Stories

FAIR particle accelerator kick-off event

Nov 07, 2007

Nuclear physicists from around the world are today celebrating the official launch of the particle accelerator FAIR with a gala event and a scientific symposium. The Facility for Antiproton and Ion Research is being set up ...

Ion beams might one day fight cancer tumors

Jan 26, 2006

Nonsurgical cancer therapy that destroys tumors but leaves healthy surrounding tissue intact could be available at every hospital if research reported this week in the journal Nature eventually comes to fruition.

Europe to build state of the art laboratory

Mar 11, 2008

One of the great ongoing challenges of astrophysics, to find out how stars evolve and die, is to be tackled in an ambitious European research programme. This will involve studying in the laboratory over 25 critical nuclear ...

Recommended for you

Scientists film magnetic memory in super slow-motion

15 hours ago

Researchers at DESY have used high-speed photography to film one of the candidates for the magnetic data storage devices of the future in action. The film was taken using an X-ray microscope and shows magnetic ...

Particles, waves and ants

Nov 26, 2014

Animals looking for food or light waves moving through turbid media – astonishing similarities have now been found between completely different phenomena.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.