Vox producer/animator Adam Cole explained what would happen to the molecules within the human body under extreme atmospheric pressures deep inside the Earth and beyond.
Physicists have a pretty good handle on how stuff behaves on the surface of the Earth. But a lot of matter in the universe exists outside this narrow band of relatively low temperatures and pressures. Inside planets and stars, the crushing force of gravity begins to overwhelm the electromagnetic and nuclear forces that keep atoms apart and maintain the shapes of molecules.
Cole also investigates how these extreme pressures are measured in real time at the Center for Matter at Atomic Pressures at the University of Rochester in upstate New York.
The behavior that comes out of being in these extreme conditions is pretty bizarre. How do you study matter under conditions that normally only exist deep inside the earth? That was the point of creating the Center for Matter at Atomic Pressures. We’re going to be doing all the fundamental physic to be able to understand matter under these really different kinds of conditions.
As it turns out, these extreme, completely unreachable pressures can all be recreated with a giant laser.
The enormous Omega EP laser which fills this giant room…The target is a tiny, inedible sandwich with a sample of whatever substance the researchers are interested in the middle. The laser light is focused down to hit this first layer which explodes into a superheated ionized gas. And that plasma blows off of the surface like a rocket. That creates this buildup of pressure that forms a shockwave. And that shockwave really quickly travels through the material. The last layer acts as a window allowing the passage of electromagnetic rays generated during the experiment. And then surrounding it.