There are physical conditions in distant worlds that cannot be reproduced in laboratories. So, to analyze the thermal and electrical processes that take place in water under extreme conditions of temperature and pressure – as is the case with Neptune and Uranus – scientists from Scuola Internazionale Superiore di Studi Avanzati (SISSA) and the University of California have developed a method to model what's inside these frozen giants more easily and at less cost. The study results were recently published in the journal Nature Communications.
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This model analyzes the electrical and thermal conductivity of water in the conditions that occur on these planets and, thus, the researchers were able to understand what happened in the giants on scales of billions of years. They suspect that both are mainly composed of water, and also suggest that the Uranus nucleus may be frozen. "Hydrogen and oxygen, together with helium, are the most common elements in the universe. It is easy to deduce that water is one of the main components of many celestial bodies," they said in a statement. This would explain why Uranus is not very luminous: with a frozen core, very little heat is able to travel to the planet's surface.
The team also analyzed the water that could exist in different phases inside Neptune and Uranus: the water could be frozen, liquid and super ionic – and, in the latter state, it is at a curious point between the liquid and solid states. . And it is worth remembering that the water on other planets is different from the one we have on Earth: “this water is different, more dense, with molecules dissociated in positive and negative ions, in addition to carrying an electric charge”, comment the researchers.
The super ionic water in Uranus and Neptune is more conductive than Earth's water, and they believe that water could make up a large portion of the dense inner layers of gas giants. These results are important for understanding what forms these two planets and how they became what they are today: “electrical and thermal conduction tells the story of a planet, how and when it formed, how it cooled down. It is crucial to analyze it with the appropriate tools, like the one we developed ”.