From: Andy Soos, ENN
Published February 13, 2012 07:58 PM

Magma Phase Changes within Planets

There is a weirdness deep inside planets. There are intense pressures and temperatures during their formation. Just as graphite can transform into Just as graphite can transform into diamond under high pressure, liquid magmas may similarly undergo major transformations at the pressures and temperatures that exist deep inside Earth-like planets. Using high-powered lasers, scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and collaborators discovered that molten magnesium silicate undergoes a phase change in the liquid state, abruptly transforming to a more dense liquid with increasing pressure. The research provides insight into planet formation.

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A phase transition is the transformation of a thermodynamic system from one phase or state of matter to another.

A phase of a thermodynamic system and the states of matter have uniform physical properties.

During a phase transition of a given medium certain properties of the medium change, often discontinuously, as a result of some external condition, such as temperature, pressure, and others. For example, a liquid may become gas upon heating to the boiling point, resulting in an abrupt change in volume. The measurement of the external conditions at which the transformation occurs is termed the phase transition point.
 

"Phase changes between different types of melts have not been taken into account in planetary evolution models," said lead scientist Dylan Spaulding, a University of California, Berkeley graduate student who conducted most of his thesis work at the Laboratory's Jupiter Laser Facility. "But they could have played an important role during Earth's formation and may indicate that extra-solar Super-Earth planets are structured differently from Earth."

Melts play a key role in planetary evolution. The team said that pressure-induced liquid-liquid phase separation in silicate magmas may represent an important mechanism for global-scale chemical differentiation and also may influence the thermal transport and convective processes that govern the formation of a mantle and core early in planetary history. Liquid-liquid phase separation is similar to the difference between oil and vinegar -- they want to separate because they have different densities.

In the new research, however, the researchers noticed a sudden change between liquid states of silicate magma that displayed different physical properties even though they both have the same composition when high pressure and temperatures were applied.

The team used LLNL's Janus laser and OMEGA at the University of Rochester to conduct the experiments to achieve the extreme temperatures and pressures that exist in the interiors of exoplanets -- those objects outside our solar system.

In each experiment, a powerful laser pulse generated a shock wave while it traveled through the sample. By looking for changes in the velocity of the shock and the temperature of the sample, the team was able to identify discontinuities that signaled a phase change in the material.

The team concluded that a liquid-liquid phase transition in a silicate composition similar to what would be found in terrestrial planetary mantles could help explain the thermal-chemical evolution of exoplanet interiors.

The research appears in the Feb. 10 edition of the journal, Physical Review Letters.

For further information:  https://www.llnl.gov/news/newsreleases/2012/Feb/NR-12-02-06.html

Photo:  NASA

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