Nilsson’s team discovered that water will expand and contract as it grows colder, alternating between regular water and denser water that is around 20 percent heavier. Peculiarly, the alternating between less dense and more dense states intensifies as the temperature drops. Then, at around minus 47 Fahrenheit, it hits a 50-50 point where the fluctuations are equal. At colder temperatures, the fluctuations slow down again and it eventually starts becoming icy.
At those supercool temperatures, water separates like oil and water in a jar, said Nilsson. He suggested the denser water would look like milk.
At issue are the atomic bonds that comprise water molecules. Ice molecules have more space within their atomic structures than water molecules. That’s why they float in water. As temperatures cool, pure water molecules use that space to become more and less dense versions of themselves.
RELATED: Water May Exist as Two Very Different Liquids Simultaneously
The findings open up a new world for researchers, providing a potential origin to the bizarre behavior of water that previously was known to exist only as one of three states: a single liquid, vapor, and solid ice. Nilsson’s team is now figuring out how pressure might affect the two states of liquid water.
“The possibility to make new discoveries in a much-studied topic such as water is totally fascinating and a great inspiration,” Alexander Späh, a study co-author and Stockholm University doctoral student in chemical physics, said in a statement.
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