A group of scientists now believe that ice fizzes and bubbles like champagne when floating in outer space. This discovery was made when researchers at Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan first created a mixture of three substances commonly found on comets and interstellar clouds from which stars form: water, ammonia, and methanol. Next, the team exposed this mixture to ultraviolet radiation to imitate the harsh environment beyond the atmosphere. As the ice temperature increased to -213 degrees Celsius, it started to crack, but at only five degrees beyond, bubbles began to form and pop within the ice. This bubbling ceased when the ice warmed to -123 degrees Celsius, and returned to its fully solid form.

space, space ice, space ice bubbles

When the experiment was repeated under different circumstances, the ice’s behavior changed substantially. There were fewer bubbles in ice with less amounts of ammonia and methanol; without UV radiation, there were no bubbles at all. When exposed to radiation, the scientists noticed an increase in hydrogen gas. This suggests that the ice bubbles are formed by hydrogen, which had split off from the methane and ammonia molecules under radiation. In addition to its unusual bubbling, space ice also assumes the viscous quality of refrigerated honey at temperatures between ‒185° C and ‒161° C.

Related: New NASA discovery hints at water elsewhere in the solar system

Previous experiments, such as those conducted by Cornelia Meinert of the University Nice Sophia Antipolis in France and her colleagues, have shown that irradiated ice contains a large amount of organic molecules, including ribose, an essential ingredient in DNA. Previously, skeptics of life within space argued that the complex molecules essential for life may have been contamination. “Now [these new results are] helping us argue that at this very low temperature, the small precursor molecules can actually react with each other,” said Meinert, who was not involved in the new experiment. “This is supporting the idea that all these organic molecules can form in the ice, and might also be present in comets.”

Via Science News

Images via Hubble ESA/Flickr and Science News