Radiation makes ice act like a liquid, a helpful state for growing organic molecules
K. Getman et al/PSU/CXC/NASA (X-ray); J. Wang et al CfA/JPL-Caltech/NASA (IRL)
Ice in space may break out the bubbly. Zapping simulated space ice with imitation starlight makes the ice bubble like champagne. If this happens in space, this liquidlike behavior could help organic molecules form at the edges of infant planetary systems. The experiment provides a peek into the possible origins of life.
Shogo Tachibana of Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan, and colleagues combined water, methanol and ammonia, all found in comets and interstellar clouds where stars form, at a temperature between ‒263° Celsius and ‒258° C. The team then exposed this newly formed ice to ultraviolet radiation to mimic the light of a young star.
As the ice warmed to ‒213° C, it cracked like a brittle solid. But at just five degrees warmer, bubbles started appearing in the ice, and continued to bubble and pop until the ice reached ‒123° C. At that