Physicists have shown how the properties of materials change in the bowels of the planets

Physicists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have studied the structural behavior of magnesium (Mg) at

extreme pressures. The study, published in the journal Nature Physics, shows that the material has fundamentally new chemical and structural properties.

In their work, the researchershigh-power laser experiments combined with nanosecond X-ray diffraction techniques. “We compress elemental Mg while maintaining a solid state to a peak pressure of 1.32 TPa (three times that at the center of the Earth),” the scientists explain. As a result, physicists observed the transformation of Mg into four new crystal structures for the first time.

Scheme of the experiment. Image: Gorman et al., Nature Physics

The researchers emphasize that practicaltests confirmed theoretical predictions of the behavior of materials under extreme pressures. In particular, the formation of "electrides" was confirmed.

Under enormous pressure, valence electronswhich normally move freely through the magnesium metal, localize in the empty spaces between the atoms and thus form a nearly massless negatively charged ion, the scientists explain. As a result, positively charged magnesium ions and negative particles from electrons are formed in the structure of the substance.

Crystal structures in magnesium at various pressures. Image: Gorman et al., Nature Physics

Under the influence of electrical attraction forces, suchstructures form a crystal lattice much denser than what one would expect from a simple "densification" of atoms. The discovery will help to better understand the physics of the processes that take place in the depths of giant planets, scientists say.

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