Scientists who have found a new type of ice believe that it could hold the key to finding alien life.
Boffins from the University College London found a type of amorphous ice that has the same density as liquid water and named it MDA (medium-density amorphous) ice.
Amorphous ice, although rare on Earth, is the main type found in space and the recent findings raise interesting questions about water – and life – in space.
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The team used a process called ball milling – vigorously shaking ordinary ice together with steel balls in a jar cooled to -200 degrees Centigrade.
Rather than ending up with small bits of ordinary ice, the process yielded the novel amorphous form of ice.
Tidal forces from gas giants such as Jupiter and Saturn may exert similar shear forces on ordinary ice as those created by ball milling.
When MDA was warmed up and recrystallised, it released an extraordinary amount of heat.
It could trigger tectonic motions and 'icequakes' in the kilometres-thick covering on Ganymede.
Jupiter's satellite is bigger than Mercury and only slightly smaller than Mars. It may host more water than all of Earth's oceans – about 100 miles below its crust.
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It is believed hardy single-celled microbial life – known as extremophiles – could exist there.
Scanning techniques identified the structure and properties of MDA.
The researchers found if they compressed it and then warmed it up, it released a surprisingly large amount of energy as it recrystallised.
It shows water can be a high-energy geophysical material that may drive tectonic motions in the ice moons of the solar system.
Senior author Professor Christoph Salzmann said: "Existing models of water should be re-tested. They need to be able to explain the existence of medium-density amorphous ice.
"This could be the starting point for finally explaining liquid water."
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