Probing giant planets' dark hydrogen

Probing giant planets' dark hydrogen
This is an illustration of the layer of dark hydrogen the team's lab mimicry indicates would be found beneath the surface of gas giant planets like Jupiter, courtesy of Stewart McWilliams. Credit: Stewart McWilliams

Hydrogen is the most-abundant element in the universe. It's also the simplest—sporting only a single electron in each atom. But that simplicity is deceptive, because there is still so much we have to learn about hydrogen.

One of the biggest unknowns is its transformation under the extreme pressures and temperatures found in the interiors of , where it is squeezed until it becomes liquid metal, capable of conducting electricity. New work published in Physical Review Letters by Carnegie's Alexander Goncharov and University of Edinburgh's Stewart McWilliams measures the conditions under which hydrogen undergoes this transition in the lab and finds an intermediate state between gas and metal, which they're calling "dark hydrogen."

On the surface of giant planets like Jupiter, hydrogen is a gas. But between this gaseous surface and the liquid metal hydrogen in the planet's core lies a layer of dark hydrogen, according to findings gleaned from the team's lab mimicry.

Using a laser-heated diamond anvil cell to create the conditions likely to be found in gas giant planetary interiors, the team probed the physics of hydrogen under a range of pressures from 10,000 to 1.5 million times normal atmospheric pressure and up to 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

They discovered this unexpected intermediate phase, which does not reflect or transmit visible light, but does transmit infrared radiation, or heat.

"This observation would explain how heat can easily escape from gas giant planets like Saturn," explained Goncharov.

They also found that this intermediate dark hydrogen is somewhat metallic, meaning it can conduct an electric current, albeit poorly. This means that it could play a role in the process by which churning metallic hydrogen in planetary cores produces a magnetic field around these bodies, in the same way that the motion of liquid iron in Earth's core created and sustains our own magnetic field.

"This dark hydrogen layer was unexpected and inconsistent with what modeling research had led us to believe about the change from hydrogen gas to metallic inside of celestial objects," Goncharov added.


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Just what sustains Earth's magnetic field anyway?

Journal information: Physical Review Letters

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Jun 23, 2016
Probably has to do with two hydrogen atoms fusing making a hydrogen atom with a proton and a neutron and two orbiting electrons that enables it to exchange one electron in electron exchange and keep an orbiting electron for structural stability of the nucleus,

Jun 23, 2016
My bad I thought you already knew of that heavy hydrogen atom with a neutron and extra electron, two of those atoms fused make helium its an in between fusion between those atoms

Jun 23, 2016
My bad I thought you already knew of that heavy hydrogen atom with a neutron and extra electron, two of those atoms fused make helium its an in between fusion between those atoms

Actually, Urs...
Heavy hydrogen (aka - deuterium) has a proton, neutron and 1 electron. No "extra electron" included...
I suppose you could say fusion combines 2 of them to make helium, but I doubt it's that simple. Something about neutron decay...

Jun 24, 2016
Probably has to do with two hydrogen atoms fusing making a hydrogen atom with a proton and a neutron and two orbiting electrons that enables it to exchange one electron in electron exchange and keep an orbiting electron for structural stability of the nucleus,


My bad I thought you already knew of that heavy hydrogen atom with a neutron and extra electron, two of those atoms fused make helium its an in between fusion between those atoms


That'd be a star.

The energy released is tremendous and actually you don't need to stabilize anything, it happens spontaneously. The problem is the energy barrier, and pressure inside planets is not nearly enough. Brown dwarfs have enough pressure to fuse deuterium, and once you can fuse single-proton hydrogens, you get a star.

Jun 24, 2016
Could be a process between your classification of a plant to a small star and its mass that makes fission possible, a baby star collecting the mass thats starts fusion in becoming a star in binary system were one star lights off first, and prevents the baby star from lighting off by robbing its mass where its being the fusion process

Jun 24, 2016
That the planet is really a baby star an the process is not instantaneous its over time preparing the conditions for continuous fusion

Jun 24, 2016
Plus the planet/ baby star, has its own magnetic field ,and could be saturated with electrons by the parent stars magnetic field making a dense electron environment

Jun 24, 2016
Where mechanically those extra electrons being saturated into its field ,those elements are gaining an extra electron parked 180 degrees from the other electron in orbit around the atom from mechanical saturation of electrons in the mass

Jun 24, 2016
Hydrogen atoms with one electron can not exchange electrons in electron exchange environments that one and only electron is needed for the structural stability of the hydrogen atoms nucleus to prevent decay, it needs at least two electrons to engage in electron exchange in electron flow of field magnetics its only possible that way , iron atoms are easy with its two dozen electrons

Jun 24, 2016
To observe that the compressed hydrogen is black in the anvil, means that it is very dark, as the cell is so small, and it must absorb over the scale of a few microns. But for a planet to look black it could take a thousand kilometers to absorb the light. But there would have to be a gap in the clouds of a planet for the heat to escape to space. If it conducts electricity, perhaps it can reflect a radar beam, and so this form of hydrogen could be confirmed or refuted by a probe to a giant planet.

Jun 25, 2016
Cousin to 'supercritical' ? That almost guarantees a raft of weird properties...

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