Two Harvard scientists have succeeded in creating an entirely new substance long believed to be the “holy grail” of physics — metallic hydrogen, a material of unparalleled power that could one day propel humans into deep space. The research was published Thursday in the journal Science.
Scientists created the metallic hydrogen by pressurizing a hydrogen sample to more pounds per square inch than exists at the center of the Earth.
This broke the molecule down from its solid state and allowed the particles to dissociate into atomic hydrogen.
The best rocket fuel we currently have is liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, burned for propellant. The efficacy of such substances is characterized by “specific impulse,” the measure of impulse fuel can give a rocket to propel it forward.
“People at NASA or the Air Force have told me that if they could get an increase from 450 seconds [of specific impulse] to 500 seconds, that would have a huge impact on rocketry,” Isaac Silvera, the Thomas D. Cabot Professor of the Natural Sciences at Harvard University, told Inverse by phone.
“If you can trigger metallic hydrogen to recover to the molecular phase, [the energy release] calculated for that is 1700 seconds.”
Metallic hydrogen could potentially enable rockets to get into orbit in a single stage, even allowing humans to explore the outer planets.
Metallic hydrogen is predicted to be “metastable” — meaning if you make it at a very high pressure then release it, it’ll stay at that pressure.
A diamond, for example, is a metastable form of graphite. If you take graphite, pressurize it, then heat it, it becomes a diamond; if you take the pressure off, it’s still a diamond. But if you heat it again, it will revert back to graphite.
This discovery could mean a start of new era for space travel. We could travel to other planets in our Solar System much, much faster, explore them, see them with our own eyes instead through lenses and cameras.
Can you imagine what would be like exploring other planets, far away from this one?
This could be a key element for removing the chains that tie us on this planet, unable to explore The Universe, maybe even develop space tourism.