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This answer to What is the nature of "rock vapor" in this description of the formation of the Moon? explains what "rock vapor" is and how scientists use the concept to understand planetary and in this case The Moon's formation as well.

Turning rock into vapor in a controlled way in order to study how it cools and the chemical reactions that take place and the types and nature of materials that reform sounds like quite a technical challenge, but probably necessary to at least test or calibrate simulations of the process on a large scale.

So I'd like to ask:

Question: Do scientists ever make rock vapor in a laboratory? If so, is it ever used to study planetary or lunar formation?

If the answer to the first part is yes, answers that discuss other and perhaps more fundamental experiments done with rock vapor are certainly welcome!

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  • $\begingroup$ this sounds like an experiment that should be done on ISS in micro gravity to collect the best quality of data,maybe you can make a related question over at space.stackexchange.com and link to this one. $\endgroup$ May 15, 2022 at 7:04
  • $\begingroup$ @trondhansen for gas-phase chemical reactions and the smallest particulates there's a lot you can do without worrying about gravity. These items will be moving at thermal velocity; at 2000 °C that's roughly 1000 m/s for a silicon atom. So each will collide with the chamber wall hundreds of times per second no matter if it's on Earth or in microgravity. And you can build and power a much, much larger vacuum chamber on Earth than you can put into one of those little equipment racks aboard the ISS. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    May 15, 2022 at 8:32
  • $\begingroup$ @trondhansen Certainly once you get molecules or clusters of hundreds of atoms you will start noticing differences between the two conditions, but if your experiment can look at timescales of seconds you can still do it on Earth. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    May 15, 2022 at 8:33
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    $\begingroup$ you are correct,i was thinking about an experiment that was running over a longer time like hours or days,someting simmilar has probably been done on ISS with gasses. $\endgroup$ May 15, 2022 at 9:14

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Not quite "rock vapour", but scientists do study gas-rock interactions. Some of that is used to understand processes forming in the moon.

For example, this paper looked at volatile metals (zinc, lead, etc) and their behaviour in a gaseous phase (aka vapour) when in equilibrium with solid rocks and liquids. Their temperature was as high as 1500 °C and they used that to understand the formation and compositions of glassy blobs found on the Moon's surface by the Apollo missions.

Another example is this other paper which looks at the condensation sequence of moderately volatile elements. Their experiments went up to 1700 °C.

Note that all those experiments were vaporised moderately volatile metals - things that would be gaseous at the temperatures attainable in experimental apparatuses. 1700 °C is pretty much the highest you can get, and even that requires specialised equipment. Anything hotter that will allow "true" vaporised rock is simply impossible. One solution might be to use a levitating droplet heated with laser, but these experiments are usually held in a stream of gas so any vapour would immediately be removed before it can be studied.

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