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Space Breakthrough: Scientists Discover Strange Compounds in Uranus and Neptune's Interiors

Sep 09, 2016 04:49 AM EDT
There are strange compounds that are possible to form in Neptune (pictured) and Uranus.
(Photo : Hulton Archive / Stringer)

There are molecules found in Uranus and Neptune's interiors that can form unexpected compounds after putting a pressure of several million atmospheres.

According to Science Daily, the study was conducted by chemists from MIPT and Skoltech (the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology) where the team used computer modeling. The team, led by Artem Oganov, built the Universal Structure Predictor: Evolutionary Xtallography (USPEX), an algorithm for crystal structure and compound prediction. It is said to be the "world's most universal and powerful," as is also used to find substances that are unusual and "forbidden."

"The smaller gas giants -- Uranus and Neptune -- consist largely of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. We have found that at a pressure of several million atmospheres unexpected compounds should form in their interiors. The cores of these planets may largely consist of these exotic materials," said Oganov, professor of Skoltech and the head of MIPT's Computational Materials Discovery Lab.

The study will focus on the C-H-O system (carbon, hydrogen, oxygen), which is the pillar of organic chemistry. It is also important to understand how these elements will behave once they are subjected to high pressures and temperatures.

According to Oganov, they play an essential part in the chemistry of giant planets. It is already known to scientists how chemistry can change elements, especially if these elements are exposed to high pressures. For example, even though methane is thermodynamically stable, when it is put at above 93 gigapascals (0.93 million atmospheres), methane starts to break down and from it will form heavy hydrocarbons such as ethane, butane and polyethylene.

Uranus and Neptune, both icy planets with carbon, hydrogen and oxygen in their interiors subjected to high pressures and harsh temperatures, are perfect grounds for this study. And it was soon found out through calculations that it is possible that there are strange compounds such as an orthocarbonic acid formed in the interiors of these icy planets, according to Nature.

"It is possible that the cores of Neptune and Uranus may contain significant amounts of a polymer of carbonic acid and orthocarbonic acid," says Oganov.

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