Deep inside the planet Jupiter, pressures reach millions of times those on Earth’s surface. There, the element hydrogen undergoes a radical transformation.
I have read several science articles about there being metallic hydrogen at Jupiter’s core. If we could create this sort of metal here on Earth, what could it be used for?
The element hydrogen consists of one proton and one electron. At Earth’s surface, it’s a gas. But, deep inside Jupiter, high pressure and heat put the squeeze on hydrogen. Atoms of hydrogen begin to exchange their electrons. Hydrogen in this “loosened up” state conducts heat and electricity well, so it fits the chemist’s definition of a metal.
But this so-called “metallic hydrogen” isn’t solid like steel. It’s a silvery liquid, much like mercury — but only about as dense as water. Scientists think that flowing metallic hydrogen in Jupiter’s core acts like a dynamo to generate the giant planet’s strong magnetic field. Here on Earth, researchers fire a high-velocity projectile at a small sample of non-conducting liquid hydrogen. That transforms it into a sort of liquid wire.
The “metallic” hydrogen made in this way still isn’t a very good conductor. It might be made more conducting with more compression — if only that could be achieved. Meanwhile, so far, no one has identified any practical use for metallic hydrogen.
- Jumpin’ Jupiter! – Metallic Hydrogen (Lawrence Livermoore National Laboratory)
- Metallic Hydrogen Has Been Achieved (American Institute of Physics, Physics News 263, March 22, 1996)
- “Great Balls of Metal” (Nature.com, June 20, 2000)
- American Hydrogen Association
- Jefferson Lab: It’s Elemental – the Periodic Table of Elements