Various forms of ice have been found in many locations within the frigid reaches of our galaxy, from interstellar clouds to comets, moons, and planets. But a particularly intriguing and rare type, â€œferroelectricâ€ ice â€“ ice crystallized so perfectly that it can sustain a giant electric field â€“ has never been detected by astronomers.
A recent study, however, has produced evidence that ferroelectric ice, also known as ice XI, likely does exist out there. Performed by a team of scientists from the U.S. and Japan, the study revealed a very narrow range of temperatures in which â€œnormalâ€ ice can transform into ice XI in nature. The research was led by Hiroshi Fukazawa, a scientist at the Japan Atomic Energy Agency.
Normal ice, which forms all natural snow and ice on Earth, is known to scientists as â€œice Ih,â€ where the ‘h’ stands for hexagonal, the shape of the molecular crystal. In ice Ih, the bonds between the hydrogen and oxygen atoms are oriented randomly, resulting in a crystal that looks fairly messy. At very low temperatures, however, the bonds begin to line up and point in the same direction; high pressure enhances this ordering effect. As a result, the tiny electric fields naturally carried by each water molecule add up to produce one large field…