Imagine diamonds falling from the sky. Scientists say that it actually happens on the surfaces of the gas giants, Uranus and Neptune. Now, they have recreated the conditions that are critical to “Diamond Rain,” as it is popularly known. And they have results, the atomic structure of diamonds.
“That we saw this very clear signature of diamonds was actually very, very surprising.”
According to The Guardian newspaper, the phenomenon occurs on the two planets because they’re rich in gases like hydrogen and helium, they have huge oceans of water, ammonia and hydrocarbons.
Researchers found that deep within these planets high temperatures and pressures act on the hydrocarbons within the oceans to produce diamonds that fall within the planet’s interiors.
Scientists managed to copy conditions within these planets to produce diamonds in a laboratory. They were also able to probe the structure of the material as it was produced to help with their research.
“You actually see the atomic structure of diamond,” Dirk Gericke, co-author of the research from the University of Warwick, said. He added that previous experiments had been unsuccessful at recreating the conditions by using lasers and other techniques because scientists underestimated the pressure and other conditions that would be evident on the blue planets.
Diamond Rain Revealed in Nature Astronomy
Gericke and his team revealed in the Nature Astronomy journal that they fired lasers at standard polystyrene – a substitute for the hydrocarbons found inside Uranus and Neptune – to produce the diamonds.
“The laser was used to rapidly heat the surface of the polystyrene, causing it to expand and generate a shock wave. The team produced two shock waves, with the second faster than the first. When the shock waves caught up with each other, temperatures and pressures of about 5,000 K and 150 GPa respectively were produced – conditions similar to those found about 10,000km into the interior of the planets,” The Guardian writes.
According to the newspaper, the conditions caused the bonds between the carbon and hydrogen within the polystyrene to break, with the carbon joining together to produce diamonds. The team also witnessed the formation of the diamonds, by using short pulses of X-rays.
“The experimental time is very short,” Dominik Kraus, first author of the research from the German research laboratory Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf, said. “That we saw this very clear signature of diamonds was actually very, very surprising.”
Although the team created diamonds in the lab, they were in fact extremely small, a few nanometers in diameter. However, researchers claim that the diamonds made on the two planets are much larger in size and that they will be able produce them at that size fairly soon.
“In the planet you have years, millions of years, and a long range of conditions where this actually can happen,” Gericke said. He added those conditions would give the diamonds plenty of opportunity to grow.
Gericke also pointed out that his research goes far beyond what can be found on the two planets and is developing at a rapid rate. He suggests that his research could be perfected to produce diamonds that can be used in industrial cutting devices or other commercial ventures. Watch this space!