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Metal Giant and the Ocean of Metallized Gas - Part 2

Metallized Gas

Image Source:    Photo by NASA Hubble Space Telescope on Unsplash

Let us begin our trip to the giant's heart.


As we venture beyond the mesmerising spectacle of Jupiter's swirling, colourful exterior, our journey to the centre plunges us into the enigmatic depths beneath the cloud tops. We descend through layers that challenge our understanding of physics and material science, embarking on a voyage that is not merely a traversal of space but also a journey back in time, to the early days of the solar system and inward, to conditions that exist only at the heart of the cosmos' most massive planets.


Our initial descent through Jupiter's atmosphere reveals a world in turmoil, where winds exceed hundreds of kilometres per hour and storms larger than Earth itself rage. Here, in the upper layers, hydrogen and helium, the lightest and most abundant elements in the universe, dominate in their gaseous form. However, as we delve deeper into the planet's interior, the pressure and temperature rise steadily, transforming these familiar gases into something entirely alien.


As we transition through the atmosphere, we encounter a region where hydrogen exhibits characteristics of both a liquid and a gas, entering a state known as a supercritical fluid. This phase, neither entirely gas nor liquid, exists under the immense pressure and temperature conditions that are inconceivable on Earth. Hydrogen undergoes a dramatic alteration of its properties in this state.; it flows like a liquid yet fills space like a gas—a bizarre and fascinating state of matter that marks the beginning of our foray into the unknown.


Further descent brings us to a critical juncture, where the pressure exceeds 2 million atmospheres—a threshold at which hydrogen undergoes one of the most extraordinary transformations in the natural world. The unimaginable pressure and temperatures soaring above 10,000 degrees Celsius compress hydrogen molecules so tightly that they release their electrons, thus creating a vast ocean of metallic hydrogen.


This metallic hydrogen is unlike any metal we encounter on Earth. It is simultaneously a metal and a liquid, efficiently conducting electricity and exhibiting metallic substances' high thermal conductivity characteristics. Yet, it flows with a viscosity akin to water's, forming an "ocean" that envelops Jupiter's core. This vast metallic sea generates Jupiter's immense magnetic field, the strongest of any planet in our solar system—a testament to the dynamic and extreme conditions within the planet's depths.


The journey towards Jupiter's core is a descent into a realm that defies imagination, where matter exists in states that are impossible to find naturally on Earth. The transition from gaseous to supercritical and ultimately to metallic hydrogen is a stark reminder of the diverse and extreme conditions that can exist within the universe. It underscores the limitations of our terrestrial perspective and highlights the need for a more nuanced understanding of the materials and processes that shape the giant planets.


As we continue our exploration of Jupiter's interior, we will delve deeper into the properties and implications of this metallic hydrogen ocean, the true heart of the planet. By unravelling the mysteries of this exotic form of matter, we will build a compelling case for reclassifying Jupiter as a metal giant. This designation better reflects the dominant composition and behaviour of its interior. This journey to the centre is not merely a physical descent but an intellectual journey that challenges our preconceptions and invites us to expand our understanding of the cosmos and the astonishing diversity of worlds within it.


After decades of theoretical contemplation, scientists substantiated the concept of metallic hydrogen, thus uncovering a captivating and intricate facet of Jupiter. This dense metallic sea, lying beneath the planet's familiar gaseous exterior and supercritical fluid layer, forms the very heart of Jupiter. The conditions necessary for creating metallic hydrogen—pressures millions of times greater than Earth's atmosphere and temperatures surpassing those found on the sun's surface—are abundant within Jupiter's interior. Here, hydrogen, the simplest and most plentiful element in the universe, is transformed into a simultaneously liquid and metallic state, a conductor of electricity, and a generator of immense magnetic fields.


The significance of the metallic hydrogen layer extends far beyond its mere existence; it plays a pivotal role in the generation of Jupiter's colossal magnetic field. As this metallic hydrogen ocean churns and flows, it acts as a colossal dynamo, creating the magnetic field that envelops Jupiter. This magnetic field is not only the strongest of any planet in our solar system but also extends millions of kilometres into space, shaping Jupiter's cosmic environment and influencing the orbits of its numerous moons and the structure of its expansive magnetosphere.


The presence of metallic hydrogen within Jupiter's interior has profound implications for our understanding of the planet's formation, evolution, and current state. It suggests that the extreme conditions necessary for forming metallic hydrogen have persisted since the planet's birth, providing a window into the early history of our solar system. The metallic hydrogen layer also influences the planet's thermal structure, contributing to the convective processes that drive its complex atmospheric dynamics and the internal heat that powers its immense storms and weather patterns.


Moreover, the existence of metallic hydrogen challenges our traditional notions of planetary interiors and the behaviour of matter under extreme conditions. It represents a state of matter rarely encountered on Earth, pushing the boundaries of our physical understanding, and requiring the development of new theoretical models and experimental techniques to study its properties and behaviour.


As we continue to discover and characterise exoplanets, particularly those in hot Jupiters and super Jupiters, the understanding of metallic hydrogen (metallized gas) and its role in shaping planetary properties becomes increasingly relevant. By recognising the potential for metallic hydrogen to exist within these distant worlds, we can refine our models of their interiors, atmospheres, and magnetic fields, advancing our comprehension of the diversity and complexity of planetary systems throughout the cosmos.


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