Under pressure

Studies by scientists at the Carnegie Institution of Science into how the various phases of hydrocarbons behave under high pressures and temperatures, such as those present deep within the Earth's interior are providing insights into what might occur on other planets. Sergey Lobanov and colleagues are investigating methane and its paradoxical behavior, which despite the molecule being one of the most common across the universe is, in some ways, the least understood. Our knowledge of physics and chemistry of volatiles inside planets is based mainly on observations of the fluxes at their surfaces, says Lobanov. However, the physical and chemical properties of methane are poorly understand at the kinds of pressures that form diamonds or that exist on the icy, gas-giant planet Neptune, for instance.