Researchers have created a new type of ice that more closely resembles liquid water than its frozen counterpart. The powdery ice, exhibiting different properties than any kind previously studied, could provide clues about life beyond Earth.
Every year, millions of new scientific research papers are sent out into the world, shedding light on new discoveries relating to every aspect of life imaginable – both on Earth and outside of it. Some things, however, are so mundane that it seems impossible that there could be anything more to learn.
That said, science is nothing if not boundless, which researchers proved when they created a new form of ice. How did they do it? By rattling normal frozen water around in a jar of steel balls at -328 degrees F, according to the corresponding study published in Science.
The resulting substance was amorphous ice, unlike anything seen before. In a typical chunk of frozen water, the molecules are arranged neatly, creating the crystalline solid with which we’re all familiar. The molecules of the new ice, on the other hand, were disorganized, creating a substance closer to liquid water than any known form of ice.
“It might be liquid water frozen in time,” Martin Chaplin, a water structure specialist who was not involved in the study, explained to Nature. “It could be very important.”
Low-density and high-density ice have been previously discovered. Comets, for example, are enormous chunks of low-density amorphous ice. This new form, however, was dubbed medium-density amorphous ice due to its unique composition. “This is a great example of how we still have things to understand with water,” said physicist Marius Millot.
New Form of Ice Could Be the Key to Understanding Other Worlds
The new form of ice doesn’t just represent a mind-blowing discovery. If confirmed, it could also open the door to studies of water previously thought impossible. “Liquid water is a strange material,” Chaplin explained. “We still don’t know as much as it as we’d like.”
Until now, scientists believed that water was composed of two forms, low-density and high-density. This medium-density substance, however, could change that.
Additionally, the new ice could provide a window into the composition of other worlds. Certain moons in our Solar System, including Europa (Jupiter’s moon) and Enceladus (Saturn’s moon), have icy surfaces. Should tidal forces cause two icy areas to rub together on such a moon, it could produce medium-density amorphous ice.
Should this type of ice form, it would create the potential for a habitable environment on these moons, as liquid-water oceans lie beneath their surfaces. “One of the key things about those moons is whether you can have an interface between liquid water and the rocks — this is where life could emerge,” Millot said. “Amorphous ice could have a role that we need to understand.”