Scientists have recently published a new study on the existence of the deadly and exotic form of ice that is known as “Ice VII,” revealing that this ice may have the ability to kill alien life on potential water worlds.
As ScienceAlert reports, the speed with which Ice VII is formed is astonishingly fast, moving at 1,000 miles per hour. In fact, this ice forms so very rapidly that scientists have speculated that all of the water contained in an ocean world could be frozen in just a few hours.
The naturally occurring variant of this ice was first discovered back in March, inside of diamonds that were found underground. New research conducted on Ice VII has demonstrated that this fast-acting ice is formed much differently than regular ice.
When water solidifies, it can normally take the shape of different kinds of ice. For instance, Ice I is your more common ice, and is created at ordinary pressures. However, if water is subject to extreme pressure, molecules will behave differently — forming themselves into different shapes. And when water is subject to over 10,000 times the amount of pressure which is normally present here on the surface of Earth, Ice VII is the result.
So far, scientists can only create the exotic Ice VII under lab conditions, and have achieved this by using either energetic laser pulses — or shock waves — to turn a small amount of water trapped between two plates into this ice variant. And while this ice certainly won’t be threatening the oceans on Earth, the same can’t necessarily be said about the oceans of water worlds which could harbor alien life.
According to Physics Central, Jonathan Belof — the project leader of new research at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) — notes that shock waves rippling out after impacts from comets and meteors could be catastrophic for alien life on water worlds. Said shock waves could quite easily create Ice VII.
“Water on these ocean worlds, under bombardment from other planetary bodies such as meteors or comets, undergoes intense changes for which life might not survive. The shock waves launched by the explosions from these planetary impact events can compress water to a pressure over 10,000 times that found on the Earth’s surface and cause the water to freeze into an exotic form known as Ice VII.”
It has been theorized that a layer of Ice VII may even be lurking deep beneath the liquid water on ocean worlds right now. Belof explained that one of the goals of his research team is to try and learn if habitability is still possible with this ice variant being present.
“Our aim is to understand as much as possible about the high-pressure phase of water, Ice VII, so that we can figure out if these planets really can support life and what the limits of habitability might be.”
The new study on the formation of Ice VII, which may possibly hinder alien life on water worlds, has been published in Physical Review Letters.