Scientists have learned a lot about the planets in the inner solar system, including Earth and Mars. But less is known about the icy water-rich outer planets, Neptune and Uranus. Astronomers have conducted a new study of these ice worlds.
According to a recent study published in the journal Nature Astronomy, a team of scientists have recreated the pressure and temperature of the interiors of both planets in a laboratory for the first time in the world. This allowed us to learn more about the chemistry of the deep water layers of the outer planets.
Traditionally, it is believed that Neptune and Uranus have separate layers, consisting of an atmosphere, ice or liquid, a rocky mantle, and a metal core. Within the framework of this study, scientists were especially interested in the possible reaction between water and rocks in the depths.
To simulate the conditions of deep water layers on Neptune and Uranus in the laboratory, scientists first submerged the typical rock-forming minerals – olivine and ferropericlase – into water. The researchers then compressed the sample in a diamond anvil at very high pressure. Then, to track the reaction between the minerals and water, they took X-ray measurements while the laser heated the sample to a high temperature.
As a result, the chemical reaction resulted in a high concentration of magnesium in the water. As a result, scientists came to the conclusion that on water-rich planets, the oceans may not have the same chemical properties as the Earth’s ocean. High pressure would make these oceans rich in magnesium.
The study also explains why the atmosphere of Uranus is much colder than that of Neptune, although both planets are rich in water. If there is much more magnesium in the watery layer of Uranus under the atmosphere, it can block the escape of heat from the interior to the atmosphere.
Scientists hope to continue their high pressure and temperature experiments under various conditions to learn more about the composition of the planets.