[Image: Fortress of Solitude from Superman, via the Superman Wiki].
Writing for Ars Technica, Jennifer Ouellette reports on “an exotic form of ice dubbed ‘ice VII’ that physicists can create in the laboratory.” It is apparently capable of “freezing an entire world within hours.”
Ice VII can only be created under conditions of literally unearthly pressure: its “oxygen atoms are arranged in a cubic shape, something that only occurs at pressures more than 10,000 times that on Earth’s surface. It’s created in the lab by zapping thin samples of water sandwiched between plates with high-intensity shock waves or laser pulses.”
Those “high-intensity shock waves” surge through water at enormous speed, rearranging the atoms in what sounds a bit like the cracking of a whip. Indeed, as one of the scientists who discovered Ice VII explains, the ice “forms in a very unusual way—by popping into existence in tiny clusters of about 100 molecules and then growing extremely fast, at over 1,000 miles per hour.”
Although we are obviously talking about a physical process unattainable outside constrained laboratory conditions, it is nonetheless interesting to imagine this being controlled somehow and used in the wild here on Earth to create, say, instant ice bridges, pop-up hockey rinks, or other architectural spans and structures flash-frozen into existence at 1,000 miles per hour.
Cathedrals made of ice surge up from lakes in the Florida panhandle to the cries of stunned passers-by.
Read more at Ars Technica or Physical Review Letters.