Part 1: A Song of Ice and Fire

Fact: Ice can be set on fire.

On the distant exoplanet Gliese 436b, a paradox covers the surface – ice, lit on fire.

The planet’s surface is made largely of water, and since the atmospheric temperature is toasty 300 degrees you might expect it to be boiling. And yet, the high atmospheric pressure compresses the water vapour back into a solid, which outweighs the high temperature and forces the water to exist as ‘hot ice’.

Conventional ice is only one of many possible solid forms of water, and just happens to be the only  one that forms naturally on earth. While wild variations of solid water, such as the awesomely named ‘Ice X’, might seem unusual to us, under the strange conditions on distant planets unusual things can happen – like on Gliese 876d, where the oceans are made of lava.

‘Another one of Mr Shaunak’s Little Bites of Science’
Image under Creative Commons license

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