A rainstorm of solid diamonds may sound like something out of fiction, but not in Uranus and Neptune. It was recently discovered that it is really raining diamonds in these far-flung planets, and researchers at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory were able to recreate the phenomenon here on Earth.
The diamond storm in Neptune and Uranus is formed by slushy, hydrocarbon-rich oceans and combined with super high temperatures on the planet’s surface that put pressure on the hydrocarbons. It then results in diamonds falling from the sky and towards the planet’s core.
Scientists have long speculated that extreme temperatures in Neptune and Uranus cause hydrocarbon molecules to split into atoms of hydrogen and carbon, and that the latter would then crystallize to form diamonds.
This theory was recently proved by a study now published in the Nature Astrophysics journal. A group of scientists at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory were able to mimic the conditions found in Neptune and Uranus to recreate a miniature diamond rain inside the laboratory.
Previous attempts were done to recreate the same effect, but they ran into problems particularly because of how extreme the conditions are on Neptune and Uranus, which are 17 and 15 times the size of Earth, respectively. The oceans in both planets also have pressures that are a million times more intense than the air pressure that hits the Earth’s seas, the Washington Post reported.
To recreate the diamond rain, head researcher Dominik Kraus, a physicist at the Helmholtz Dresden-Rossendorf Research Center in Germany, and his colleagues used an intense optical laser and an X-ray free electron laser to emit shock waves through a block of polystyrene, which is a type of plastic composed of carbon and hydrogen.
The combination of two waves coming out of two different lasers caused the polystyrene plastic to get squeezed by 150 gigapascals of pressure and heated to over 4,700 degrees Celsius. At this point, diamonds already began to form and the overall process only took a less than a second.
Nearly every carbon atom in the polystyrene plastic was transformed into diamonds, which reached no bigger than a few nanometers in size. According to Science Alert, scientists say it’s possible that the diamonds in Neptune and Uranus could reach up to millions of carats in weight.
Kraus told the Guardian that the experiment could also help explain why planets such as Neptune and Uranus, which are far from the Sun, can generate more heat than expected.
“These diamonds will sink down because they are heavier than the surrounding medium and when they sink down there will be friction with the surrounding medium, and at some point they will be stopped when they reach the core – and all this generates heat.”
Moreover, the researchers hope that their study would help introduce a more efficient way of producing diamonds on Earth.
[Featured Image by MarcelC/Thinkstock]