Washington: Researchers have recently re-created the planet formations, conditions deep inside exotic super-Earths and giant planet cores in the lab with the help of lasers.
The experiments revealed the unusual properties of silica, the key constituent of rock, under the extreme pressures and temperatures relevant to planetary formation and interior evolution.
Using laser-driven shock compression and ultrafast diagnostics, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) physicist Marius Millot and colleagues from Bayreuth University (Germany), LLNL and University of California, Berkeley were able to measure the melting temperature of silica at 500 GPa (5 million atmospheres), a pressure comparable to the core-mantle boundary pressure for a super-Earth planet (5 Earth masses), Uranus and Neptune. It was also the regime of giant impacts that characterize the final stages of planet formation.
In combination with prior melting measurements on other oxides and on iron, the new data indicated that mantle silicates and core metal have comparable melting temperatures above 300-500 GPa, suggesting that large rocky planets may commonly have long-lived oceans of magma, molten rock, at depth. Planetary magnetic fields can be formed in this liquid-rock layer.
Those advances were made possible by a breakthrough in high-pressure crystal growth techniques at Bayreuth University in Germany.
There, Natalia Dubrovinskaia and colleagues managed to synthesize millimeter-sized transparent polycrystals and single crystals of stishovite, a high-density form of silica (SiO2) usually found only in minute amounts near meteor-impact craters.
Those crystals allowed Millot and colleagues to conduct the first laser-driven shock compression study of stishovite using ultrafast optical pyrometry and velocimetry at the Omega Laser Facility at the University of Rochester's Laboratory for Laser Energetics.
In fact, the recent discovery of more than 1,000 exoplanets orbiting other stars in our galaxy reveals the broad diversity of planetary systems, planet sizes and properties. It also sets a quest for habitable worlds hosting extraterrestrial life and shines new light on our own solar system.
Using the ability to reproduce in the laboratory the extreme conditions deep inside giant planets, as well as during planet formation, Millot and colleagues plan to study the exotic behavior of the main planetary constituents using dynamic compression to contribute to a better understanding of the formation of the Earth and the origin of life.
The study is published in Science.