Scientists at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have predicted the existence of a new form of ice never before seen on Earth and it could tell us about water on other planets. Using a computational algorithm and molecular simulation, the researchers were able to pinpoint the exact pressure and temperature needed to shift water into the expected shape. If their predictions bear out, they could use the research to synthesize ice in a form that has never taken shape naturally on this planet.

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So what makes this form of ice, called Ice XVII, so interesting? For one thing, it’s far more lightweight than any other known form of ice, due to the incredibly low density of the clathrate structure. While clathrate ice crystals aren’t completely unknown to science, they’re usually only found in extreme environments like permafrost or the ocean floor, and were previously thought only to form when “guest molecules” like methane were present. This predicted form would be made of water alone.

As far as we know, Ice XVII can’t form in nature — at least, not on Earth. Water needs to be placed inside an enclosed space that’s subjected to ultra-high, outwardly expanding pressure in order to crystalize properly. At -10 degrees Fahrenheit (-23 Celsius), the pressure would have to be four times greater than the deepest parts of the Pacific Ocean. At lower temperatures, that pressure would only have to increase.

Related: World’s most massive canyon may be hidden beneath Antarctic ice

However, that doesn’t mean that Ice XVII doesn’t exist.  On other planets with different temperatures or higher pressures than Earth, it might just be the most natural form for ice to take. While scientists have now discovered 18 different types of ice, on Earth, ice only exists in one of two phases (confusingly enough, both classified as Ice I). You can read more about the findings of this study in the new issue of Science Advances.

+  University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Via Daily Mail

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