Sunday, January 29, 2017

Pedal to the Metal


Click the arrow to learn about the discovery of metallic hydrogen. Video source: Harvard University YouTube channel.

Harvard University scientists have announced they created metallic hydrogen in a laboratory.

According to CNBC:

Metallic hydrogen is thought to be a superconductor, meaning it could conduct electricity without any resistance. Electricity traveling through normal circuits loses energy to resistance overtime, often in the form of heat. This is why it is harder to send electrical currents (say, through the electricity grid) over long distances than short ones. But a current traveling through a superconducting material loses nearly zero energy.

NASA partially funded the study, as metallic hydrogen has potential use as a rocket fuel. Isaac Silvera, the Harvard University researcher who published the paper, is quoted on the NASA web site:

Atomic metallic hydrogen, if metastable at ambient pressure and temperature could be used as the most powerful chemical rocket fuel, as the atoms recombine to form molecular hydrogen. This light-weight high-energy density material would revolutionize rocketry, allowing single-stage rockets to enter orbit and chemically fueled rockets to explore our solar system. To transform solid molecular hydrogen to metallic hydrogen requires extreme high pressures, but has not yet been accomplished in the laboratory. In the proposed new approach electrons will be injected into solid hydrogen with the objective of lowering the critical pressure for transformation. If successful the metastability properties of hydrogen will be studied. This new approach may scale down the pressures needed to produce this potentially revolutionary rocket propellant.


An illustration of metallic hydrogen propelling a rocket. Image source: NASA.

Not everyone believes the Harvard team was successful. According to Engadget, “Other scientists have reservations, saying it's possible the solid material they created is actually aluminum oxide that came from the anvil's diamond tips.”

In 2011, researchers at the Max Planck Institute in Germany announced they had converted hydrogen to “a conductive and metallic state.” Silvera and others questioned the findings.

(Note to climate change deniers ... This is how science works. Peer review. The data are real. Your denials are not.)

Silvera presented a lecture on his work in March 2012 at the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Spring Symposium in Pasadena, California. Click here for his PowerPoint presentation. You can also watch a video of his presentation, but the audio is very poor.


Click the arrow to watch Dr. Silvera's presentation on metallic hydrogen as a rocket fuel. Turn up your volume as high as you can! Video source: Dept of Physics & Astronomy at the University of Utah youTube channel.

You can also read this 2010 paper by Silvera on metallic hydrogen as a source for rocket fuel.

NASA believes that metallic hydrogen may exist at the core of the planet Jupiter. According to the NASA Juno probe press kit web site:

Deep in Jupiter’s atmosphere, under great pressure, hydrogen gas is squeezed into a fluid known as metallic hydrogen. At these enormous pressures, the hydrogen acts like an electrically conducting metal, which is believed to be the source of the planet’s intense magnetic field. This powerful magnetic environment creates the brightest auroras in our solar system, as charged particles precipitate down into the planet’s atmosphere.


A cutaway image of Jupiter's core. Click the image to view at a larger size. Image source: NASA.

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