Who's Behind Listverse?
Jamie founded Listverse due to an insatiable desire to share fascinating, obscure, and bizarre facts. He has been a guest speaker on numerous national radio and television stations and is a five time published author.More About Us
Ten Things You Never Knew about Water
All the things we’ve learned about water during our school years seem so simple and logical, right? It always moves to find its lowest point. It makes up the majority of the human body. It makes up the majority of planet Earth! And it’s necessary to sustain and grow life for flora, fauna, and everything in between. Even in health class, we long ago learned that water is critical for weight maintenance and loss, healthy organ function, proper brain function, any strenuous athletic endeavor, and so much more. But that’s not all!
In this list, we’ll take a look at ten fascinating facts about water that you never knew before. These aren’t the basic surface-level (pun intended!) facts you learn about good ol’ H2O in school. No, this is a much deeper dive into some of the far more technical knowledge surrounding water and its properties. Science nerds, assemble: We’ve got water on the brain in this one!
10 Hot Water Freezes Faster?!
The Mpemba effect is a fascinating water effect named after Tanzanian student Erasto B. Mpemba. This is a phenomenon that challenges the world’s natural intuition about hot and cold water. You’d think cold water freezes faster than hot, wouldn’t you?
After all, it’s a quicker descent from cold to frozen than it is from hot to solid state. Right? Well, surprisingly, hot water can sometimes freeze faster than cold water. Although this idea might seem paradoxical, it has been observed and documented for centuries—and now it’s named for Mpemba, who was a student helping catalog the phenomenon several decades ago.
Several factors contribute to the Mpemba effect. They include differences in evaporation rates, the formation of ice crystals, and the rate of cooling. The exact conditions under which hot water freezes faster than cold water can vary, though. That’s why it still makes this phenomenon an intricate puzzle for scientists.
In fact, some scientists today are even still debating whether the Mpemba effect is real and consistently reproducible! Regardless, understanding the Mpemba effect could have practical applications, like improving the efficiency of ice-making machines and optimizing cooling processes in various food-related and manufacturing industries.
9 Water Is Not Perfect
When we think of pure water, we often envision it as H2O. The pure stuff! Isn’t that what all the bottled water commercials would have us believe, anyway? But in reality, water molecules can exhibit slight variations due to the presence of different isotopes.
Take, for example, heavy water. Scientifically known as deuterium oxide (D2O), it replaces hydrogen atoms with deuterium. That’s a hydrogen isotope containing one proton and one neutron. Heavy water is denser than ordinary water due to the greater mass of deuterium. This difference is subtle but has crucial implications in nuclear reactions and certain chemical processes.
Heavy water is used in nuclear reactors and as a neutron moderator. So it’s still water, and it still has all the properties of water. But you wouldn’t drink it! We hope. That said, the mere presence of deuterium in heavy water gives it distinct new properties, too. And it highlights the fascinating complexity of even the most basic of substances in the natural world!
8 Negative Temperature Water?!
Water can defy conventional temperature scales when subjected to extreme conditions. Take this fascinating fact, for one. In certain circumstances, water can exist in a negative temperature state. It is actually possible to cool water below 32°F (0°C) without freezing it into ice.
The condition is known as the “supercooling” of water. Even at standard pressure, under the right conditions, water can be “supercooled” down to more than -40°F (-40°C) and still retain the properties of a liquid.
Scientists have determined that water can get to as low as -55°F (-48°C) before it absolutely must freeze. But the question, of course, is how? Well, one big factor is that water generally needs something to freeze onto. Water molecules need to latch onto other solid-state molecules and begin their freezing change, spreading out in the process.
In very, very pure water with no dust, dirt, or other improprieties for the increasingly cold water molecules to take hold of, the liquid can remain a liquid even at temperatures well below what should have been an automatic freezing point.
7 Superionic Ice
In the extreme environments on giant gas planets like Uranus and Neptune, you’ll likely find a unique form of ice known as superionic ice. This exotic substance exhibits properties of both solids and liquids. In doing so, it greatly challenges our traditional definitions of matter.
Superionic ice is formed under intense pressure and temperature conditions with water molecules that become arranged in a crystalline lattice structure. However, the hydrogen ions within this structure behave as a liquid. Thus, they can move freely between the oxygen ions. Think of it like a solid oxygen lattice, just as any normal water molecule would have, but it’s floating within a sea of free-floating hydrogen ions that show properties different from what is considered normal.
Scientists are still trying to figure out what this means for the universe. They are pretty sure this is happening on Uranus and Neptune—but of course, we can’t exactly travel there and set up shop to confirm. Still, understanding superionic ice provides insights into the extreme conditions found in the outer solar system. And it also highlights the remarkable adaptability of water under different circumstances far beyond our terrestrial life!
6 Yes, Water Can Burn
Water is known for its role in extinguishing fires, but under specific conditions, it can become part of a fiery reaction itself. Sodium is a highly reactive alkali metal, and it can react explosively when exposed to water. This reaction produces hydrogen gas and heat, which leads directly to fiery explosions.
The reason behind this counterintuitive phenomenon is the displacement of hydrogen ions (H+) in water by sodium ions (Na+). That displacement releases hydrogen gas (H2) and generates intense heat. The combination of hydrogen and oxygen in the air can lead to combustion, which then makes the conditions ripe for a vicious sodium fire.
It’s essential to handle reactive substances like sodium with great care, as the interaction with water can be extremely hazardous. This fact serves as a stark reminder of the complexity of chemical reactions and the importance of safety measures when working with reactive materials. It also serves as a reminder that not everything is what it seems! Even a substance like water—which one thinks can merely put out fires—can become highly flammable under the right (wrong) conditions.
5 The “Fifth State” of Matter
Most of us are familiar with the four states of matter: solids, liquids, gases, and plasmas. However, in the realm of quantum physics, a theoretical “fifth state” of matter known as Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC) exists. BEC occurs at extremely low temperatures, close to absolute zero. There, atoms lose their individual identities and merge into a single quantum entity. In this state, matter behaves as a wave rather than distinct particles, leading to fascinating phenomena such as superfluidity and the ability to exhibit quantum interference.
This exotic state of matter has been a subject of intense study and has practical applications in fields like atomic physics and the development of ultra-sensitive measurement devices. It is most commonly looked at with water since water tends to be readily available and able to be cooled to nearly absolute zero by scientists.
With BECs having only been discovered about 30 years ago, there is still plenty more for scientists to learn about this “fifth state” and what it might mean as far as future technological advancements are concerned.
4 The Universal Solvent
Water is often referred to as the “universal solvent” due to its remarkable ability to dissolve a wide range of substances. This property is rooted in the water’s polar nature. The oxygen atom has a slight negative charge, and the hydrogen atoms have a slight positive charge. That allows it to serve as a very efficient solvent for many other substances. And the “universal solvent” title isn’t just a feel-good moniker, either. Water literally dissolves more substances than any other liquid on Earth. It is forever the champ at that!
The polarity of water allows it to interact with other polar or ionic substances. That means it can break them down into their constituent ions and molecules. This makes water essential for chemical reactions in living organisms, including within our own bodies. It also plays a crucial role in processes like digestion and cellular function.
Water’s ability to dissolve a vast array of compounds, from salts and sugars to acids and bases, is a testament to its versatility and importance in both natural and industrial contexts. And that’s why they always tell you to drink more water! Its properties as a solvent hold true within your digestive system, allowing your body to work better and function at a healthier rate.
3 Sea Ice Is Freshwater
Despite the vast expanse of salty seawater surrounding it, sea ice itself is actually composed of freshwater. When seawater freezes, it undergoes a process called freezing-point depression. This phenomenon occurs because the dissolved salts in seawater lower its freezing point. As the seawater begins to freeze, the ice crystals that form are composed of pure freshwater.
The salts are excluded from the crystalline structure and remain in the remaining ocean water that is then washed along its path. That ocean water then becomes saltier and denser as a result—and the sea ice that has now formed is nearly entirely freshwater with no salt in its structure.
This separation of salt from ice is the reason why sea ice is a valuable source of freshwater in polar regions. As you might be assuming (and you are correct to do so), this sea ice can be melted and used for drinking water and other essential purposes like cooking and cleaning.
In turn, that little fact about sea ice has saved countless generations of people in the far northern and southern reaches of planet Earth. Understanding the science of sea ice and its freshwater properties is crucial for the inhabitants of Arctic and Antarctic regions, where access to any other sustained freshwater resources is very, very limited.
2 Water’s Triple Point
Water has a unique property known as the “triple point.” This occurs at precisely 32.018°F (0.01°C) and 611.657 pascals (0.00604 atmospheres) of pressure. At this specific combination of temperature and pressure, water can coexist in all three phases—solid, liquid, and gas.
This unique state allows scientists to define the fundamental temperature and pressure values for these three phases. The triple point of water serves as a fundamental reference point for the calibration of temperature and pressure measurement devices all across the manufacturing and mechanical industries, including the International Temperature Scale (ITS-90).
In practical terms, the triple point of water is crucial for creating and calibrating thermometers and barometers. For instance, the Celsius scale, which is based on the triple point of water (0.01°C), provides a consistent and widely accepted method for measuring temperature. We have to start at an agreed-upon point to measure how hot or cold things are, don’t we? Thankfully, water’s unique and amazing traits give the world that starting point.
Moreover, the triple point of water has significance beyond metrology (which is a fancy word to mean the science of measurement). It is a fundamental concept in understanding phase changes and the behavior of matter under various conditions. It illustrates the delicate balance between temperature and pressure that determines whether water exists as a solid, liquid, or gas.
1 Water’s Memory
Are you ready to end on a weird one? “Water Memory” is a controversial but captivating concept in the world of science. It suggests that water has a memory of its own, allowing it to “remember” information and energy. The idea gained prominence through the work of Dr. Masaru Emoto, a Japanese author and researcher. He claimed that water could exhibit different crystalline structures when exposed to various outside stimuli. According to Dr. Emoto, those exposures included words, music, and thoughts.
While this idea is met with skepticism in the scientific community, some experiments have suggested that water can indeed react to external influences. Water’s molecular structure, consisting of hydrogen bonds, might play a role in its ability to record information. The implications of water memory, if proven, could be profound, potentially impacting fields like homeopathy and alternative medicine.
While Dr. Emoto’s research may not be fully accepted by the mainstream scientific community, the idea has gained enough traction to make it an interesting future spot of study. Does water “know” how to react to various outside stimuli? Does it “recognize” external factors like we do? The science says… maybe!