Creating the Heart of a Planet in the Heart of a Gem

November 1, 2011

Although materials scientists have theorized for years that a form of super-dense aluminum exists under the extreme pressures found inside a planet's core, no one had ever actually seen it, until now. Using a table-top laser that penetrates crystals and sets off micro-explosions inside them, an international team of researchers blasted tiny bits of sapphire creating powerful shock waves that compressed the surrounding material. Under these extreme conditions—terapascals of pressure and temperatures of 100,000 Kelvin—warm dense matter forms, the state of matter between a solid and a plasma. The researchers then examined the interior of the sapphire, utilizing a beam of x-ray light from the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science's Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory, and found a novel form of aluminum, demonstrating that high-energy density produced in a simple tabletop experiment makes it possible to form an exotic high-density material phase which could not be produced by other means. More »