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Found trapped in a diamond: a type of ice not known on Earth (latimes.com)
441 points by pulisse on Mar 9, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 72 comments

This is fascinating. I had no idea ice could take on so many crystalline forms depending on the variety of conditions. Apparently there are other shapes even beyond those mentioned in the article: http://www1.lsbu.ac.uk/water/ice_phases.html

If you find this interesting, you might enjoy Kurt Vonnegut's "Cat's Cradle", which is based around a highly dangerous (and imaginary) form of ice, ice-nine.

And even if you aren't super excited about ice-nine, it's still a highly enjoyable read.

There was also a real-life scare in the 70s around "polywater" [1][2] that some people worried could "infect" other water.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polywater

[2] https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/polywater-the-soviet-s...

Thank you! Almost anyone could have just made a cat's cradle reference. You went straight to the source and elevated the conversation in the process.

>The story "Polywater Doodle" by Howard L. Myers (writing under the pseudonym "Dr. Dolittle") appeared in the February 1971 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact. It features an animal composed entirely of polywater, with the metabolism described by Richard Feynman. (The title of the story is a pun on "Polly Wolly Doodle".)

There's not a day that goes by that I don't wish Feyman was still alive to help slash through the nonsense.

> Thank you! Almost anyone could have just made a cat's cradle reference. You went straight to the source and elevated the conversation in the process.

Polywater wasn't the "source" for Cat's Cradle. The book was published in 1963 and (per Wikipedia) the West didn't take notice of polywater until 1966 at the earliest.

That Wikipedia article is great. I love the introduction paragraph.

> By 1969 the popular press had taken notice and sparked fears of a "polywater gap" in the USA.

I find it illuminating to understand that "journalists," or the "popular press," were ratcheting up the "fear sells" / fake news bullshit at least as far back as 1969 (and I'm sure it goes back much further). If you were ignorant, and I certainly am, you would think that this is a wholly new phenomenon. I mean, that is what the same "popular press" is telling us today, right?

There was even a phrase coined in the 1890's for such journalism; "Yellow Journalism[1]"

From the wikipedia article. Frank Luther Mott (of the same era) on the five main characteristics of yellow journalism:

1. Scare headlines in huge print, often of minor news

2. Lavish use of pictures, or imaginary drawings

3. Use of faked interviews, misleading headlines, pseudoscience, and a parade of false learning from so-called experts

4. Emphasis on full-color Sunday supplements, usually with comic strips

5. Dramatic sympathy with the "underdog" against the system.

I think it's inaccurate and unhelpful to blame the "popular press" and contributes to making a false equivalence about the role of journalism to today's toxic politics (which I find very frustrating). Such a phrase can include everything from: NYTimes, popular tabloids, Fox and Friends, Fox news InfoWars, Slate, the Economist etc etc. There's a huge range of journalistic integrity and quality in that. For all its mistakes, let's not equate the new york times with fox and friends...

Look up the history of media and its role intersecting with the rise of Fascism and Nazism, the various earlier revolutions in Europe (particularly "The Year of Revolutions", 1840, in which there were fifty revolutions throughought Europe and South America), the not-quite-a-revolution Chartist movement in England, the French Revolution, the American Revolution, large aspects of the Reformation / Counter-Reformation (including the 30 Years War), the de Witt brothers' lynching in the Netherlands, the history and background of the Catholic Inquisition (dating from ~850 AD to the 1960s), and the experience of the Romans and Greeks with demagoguery (literally "a man of the people", but which rapidly acquired the connotation of "rabble rouser"), and the tradition of Socrates / Plato / Aristotle vs. the Sophists (from which: sophistry, sophomore, and sophisticated).

It's almost as if there's some fundamental social-system dynamic by which information, information mediation, cognitive capabilities (particularly at the population level), and other information-theoretic and psychological dynamics are deeply rooted in human, and arguably all systems function.

A good capsule summary of this is H.L. Mencken's brief "Brayard vs. Lionheart", written of the 1926 U.S. presidential election, from which the infamous line about an idiot someday being elected to the office is found, but whose real value is in clearly describing the dynamic. And also, IMO, tying it to Gresham's Law.

You might find it informative to read up on the long and inglorious history of "Yellow Journalism". Fearmongering was a time-honored business model for a long time.

Reading that lead me down a minor rabbithole about "pathological science", and to this entertaining and technically pretty chewy talk from 1953:


I do really like Cat's Cradle, but I don't think its a relevant recommendation. Ice-nine is only a plot device, the book isn't about ice at all.

Well, ice-nine does have a relationship to water specifically. For whatever reason, TV Tropes doesn't currently consider it an instance of the Phlebotinum trope (any substance or phenomenon which is essentially an entirely unexplained but powerful plot device).

Maybe that's an unintentional omission from the wiki, but it could be that the somewhat elaborated hard SF backstory of ice-nine means that it's not just considered "plot fuel".


Something similar happened with a drug: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ritonavir#Polymorphism_and_t...

My first thought when reading the article title was ice-nine :)

Definitely learned something new today. Here's a phase diagram of the info in your link:


This diagram is so weird to me. Bottom part is simple and neat, while the top half just goes crazy. My puny brain desperately wants this world to be understandable and elegantly designed, but apparently atomic structure has a different idea.

All the noise is just details. The chart is basically three parts:

1: Blue is all the pressures and temperatures where water is solid.

2: Green is all the pressures and temperatures where water is liquid.

3: Yellowish red is all the pressures and temperatures where water is vapour.

I'm not sure what to make of the points and little lines. They seem to have something to do with the ranges within those ranges where the different kinds of ice occur.

I guess this chart means that water can only present in trenches and other low lying areas of Mars? On surface, pressure is 600pa but liquid water needs slightly more to avoid boiling instantly.

You might find John Baez's article on this interesting.


He covers both the basics, and some of the reasons why he, as a mathematician, finds the variety of ice structures interesting.

Of note, he mentions that Ice VII (the type of ice discovered in the article) has previously been created by Sandia's Z Machine


I remember watching a video on YouTube a few years ago that there are many different structures of ice, and when you cool it down to a specific temperature, it makes a loud cracking noise as it transitions from one form to the other. I can't remember the details exactly sadly.

I believe this guy does research on frozen water crystals https://twitter.com/DevilleSy (at least he does tweet a lot about flakes and has written a book at Wiley's or Springer so..)

The bit about compressibility tickles my mind. Really cool that some compounds maintain their structure while collapsing the space between, while others change their structure entirely when subjected to pressure. Would make for a cool visualization.

Are there theories about what structure ice-VIII, ice-IX, etc. would take?

Ice has at least 16 different phases: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ice

Ice XVII has been predicted: http://www.sci-news.com/othersciences/chemistry/ice-xvii-che...

> The bit about compressibility tickles my mind.

One of my favourites is 'electride' bonding, where you compress a crystal so much that the electrons get squeezed into the gaps (interstices) between atoms instead, essentially making the electrons themselves act as anions.

This is really cool, and makes you wonder what other exotic high-pressure physics waits to be found.


Following the link that lamename gave about 90 minutes before your comment says that ice-VIII is tetragonal as is ice-IX. The list goes to ice-XVII. See also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ice#Phases .

Hey everyone --- I work with defects in diamond for my PhD! While they are completely different from the chunks of ice described here, let me know if there is something I can help with.

Ice is really a fascinating material generally, even just “normal” ice. My thesis advisor has pretty much made a career out of studying it. I didn’t do my material science work on ice personally though; he also studied high temperature super alloys earlier in his career.

What a trip that in the future the most coveted jewelry will probably be from materials found on other planets (assuming we haven't gotten over this jewelry thing).

Mandatory in case someone wonders about OP last part:


Diamonds are bullshit, but body adornment is a human universal that exists in all cultures. So the diamond bullshit is hijacking something very real and human.

You're totally right, but there are also a lot of 'real' and 'human/animal' traditions that we've collectively decided aren't worth continuing. I'd argue this should be one of them, but I'm not bullish on my preference vs. diamond advertising budget and a culture of perpetual consumerism.

Given how much pressure it's under, I wonder if it might cause the diamond to explode if subjected to additional stress.

So is it still 'frozen' (it is ice afterall) even above 0c?

Yes, it is!

Water has a pretty interesting relationship with pressure (interesting to nerds like me anyway) : https://physics.stackexchange.com/questions/60170/freezing-p...

+1 I read an interesting article a while ago that i cannot find anymore, it was about dooms day from science point of view.

The bottom line is in case of metheor falling down it is not the impact or cloud of dust up killing you, but simple change of pressure that will not only boil all oceans but also will boil blood and water in your body. As pressure goes down so falls the boiling point of liquid.

Edit: typos

Some outer solar system moons are mostly water ice. Theircores could be this phase of ice.

This conflicts with what I think I know about the occurrence of diamonds. For the most part diamonds are formed just below the surface in melts rich in dissolved carbon dioxide. These materials rise through the crust through very narrow pipes and explode when the carbon dioxide comes out of solution at the surface.

These explosions form the bell shaped bodies that are mined for diamonds. Because of the phase behavior of carbon dioxide rich melts, and because the diamond grade just below the bell is very low, diamonds seem to be formed in the high pressure streams of carbon dioxide released when the temperature declines and the confining pressure is released at the surface.

Perhaps there are "seed" crystals formed much deeper and such a crystal formed the nucleus for this diamond. From this popular article it is not possible to determine at what depth the water crystal formed. Conceivably it could have formed in the stream of carbon dioxide at the surface.

I don't know what they do on their website but it is as heavy as they can come. Scrolling the article in Chrome, causes music (play music, playing in another tab) to skip!

But it was “known on Earth”, and had been observed in the lab - it just hadn’t yet been observed in nature. A bit of a sensational title.

Seeing "atoms" used in reference to water molecules has me feeling a particular way. Am I nitpicking too hard?


edit: moccachino makes a good point below that I missed on my first two passes -- it's referring to the actual positioning of the atoms within water molecules, which makes sense now that I'm giving it another pass. This is evident in referring in one part to "oxygen atoms" specifically.

It seems to me the usage is correct, they are referencing the atoms that make up the water molecules.

It took me your comment to realize it. Thanks for pointing it out: the point that wasn't effectively conveyed to me was that the actual relative positioning of oxygen atoms relative to each other seems to be shifting under pressure.

This speaks well to DrNuke's point as well.

Communicating research to non-specialists in an effective manner is the highest regarded soft skill for STEM profiles doing r&d these days, so yes you are possibly nitpicking here.

<snip> sorry I said anything

Regardless of the parent comments meaning, there's value in communicating complex ideas simply. You didn't have to snip your comment.

If you want a job related to that kind of work, broadly, I'd search around for any STEM journalism or education related. Also many public health/nonprofits might have a significant outreach arm if they're large.

Or you could go the blogger/educational youtuber route. Less traditional but pros and cons.

Disclaimer: no first hand experience here, just my observations of others. Good luck!

You could always try working for https://www.khanacademy.org/ or some similar organization

Nobody says they pay well for it. It's still journalism.

I believe the parent post is referring to actual scientists/researchers who ALSO communicate well...not people who are not in R&D but happen to communicate well.

Start with blogging, and build a portfolio.

As moccachino said it is the correct usage. I went to school for materials science and had a particular interest in ice physics.

Thank god it isn't ice-nine!

And people keep acting like there's nothing left to really discover on earth.

Dang, got here too late to make the Vonnegut joke.

But still in time to share a link about strange forms of non-ice H2O: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polywater

tl;dr: "Diamonds can trap small bubbles of extremely dense pressurized water when they form. Then, as the diamond moves up through the mantle, the water inclusion is subjected to cooler temperatures while remaining under the same pressurized conditions. In that very specific case, ice-VII can occur."

How much is it worth?

Show me your BTC wallet

Obviously ice 9.

Let's just be grateful it wasn't ice-IX they found.

Yes! Getting close though. Only two stages left.

For those who need context: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/135479.Cat_s_Cradle


For others, this isn't the Vonnegut Ice nine.

Sounds like they haven't actually broken open the diamond, so can we really be sure?

If you broke open the diamond, the sample would be destroyed. They used a technique called x-ray crystallography. You shoot a beam of x-rays at the sample, and the beam deffracts due to the crystal's atomic structure. In analyzing the resulting diffraction pattern you can build a *3D model of what the molecules look like structurally. This is why we know what DNA looks like.


They don't mention it in the article, but it's likely to be IR spectroscopy, since that can measure resonance of H2O molecular bonds, which would be specific to symmetries/energies in Ice-7 and very different from the known spectrum of diamond.

edit to add: http://www1.lsbu.ac.uk/water/water_vibrational_spectrum.html

However, I suppose it could also be X-ray crystallography, which would measure the actual crystal structure. Probably other methods as well...

They do mention it in the article

>But while they were scanning the diamonds with high intensity X-rays, they saw something else: The first conclusive evidence of ice-VII on the planet.

But probably they used other methods to confirm.

But of course, since ice IX is fictional, we don't know what it's IR spectrum or X-ray crystallography pattern is...

You forgot vanilla


Ice Nine???

Tyrell Corp security are here to have a word....

So it goes.

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