Opacity and conductivity measurements in noble gases at conditions of planetary and stellar interiors

R. Stewart Mcwilliams, D. Allen Dalton, Zuzana Konopkova, Mohammad F. Mahmood, Alexander F. Goncharov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

The noble gases are elements of broad importance across science and technology and are primary constituents of planetary and stellar atmospheres, where they segregate into droplets or layers that affect the thermal, chemical, and structural evolution of their host body. We have measured the optical properties of noble gases at relevant high pressures and temperatures in the laser-heated diamond anvil cell, observing insulator-to-conductor transformations in dense helium, neon, argon, and xenon at 4,000–15,000 K and pressures of 15–52 GPa. The thermal activation and frequency dependence of conduction reveal an optical character dominated by electrons of low mobility, as in an amorphous semiconductor or poor metal, rather than free electrons as is often assumed for such wide band gap insulators at high temperatures. White dwarf stars having helium outer atmospheres cool slower and may have different color than if atmospheric opacity were controlled by free electrons. Helium rain in Jupiter and Saturn becomes conducting at conditions well correlated with its increased solubility in metallic hydrogen, whereas a deep layer of insulating neon may inhibit core erosion in Saturn.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)201421801
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)
Issue number26
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2015


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