Diamonds may not only be a girl’s best friend – they may also be an extraterrestrial’s closest companion. This is because new research suggests that the sparkly stones could possibly tumble from the skies of the planetary gas giants, Jupiter and Saturn.
Previously, studies had indicated that the gaseous Neptune and Uranus were capable of producing this cosmic bling. And now, new calculations reveal that Jupiter and Saturn could be adorned with diamonds as well. This is because these enormous gas-ball planets have atmospheres with the ideal temperature and pressure to transform carbon to diamond. A diamond is a type of carbon that develops under intense pressure, and has atoms that are situated in a diamond-shaped crystal lattice. The diamonds on Jupiter and Saturn would be the same as the ones glittering in your local jewelry store, except they would be a bit more dense.
These deductions are all currently based on theory and modeling. Galactic diamonds have not yet actually been revealed, photographed or collected by any spacecraft. But the scientific principles behind the hypotheses are rock hard.
As a solid, carbon can assume more than one form. At low pressures and temperatures, carbon becomes graphite, a soft material found in pencils. Significantly more intense conditions are necessary to transform carbon into diamonds, which are chemically identical to graphite, but are exceptionally strong, and possess atoms which are forcefully attached to each other.
Scientists are aware that carbon, in the form of methane, is present in the atmospheres of Saturn, Jupiter, Neptune and Uranus. Uranus and Neptune’s deep interiors abound in methane, which high temperatures would transform into elemental carbon. Intense temperature and pressure would supply the perfect conditions to form diamond from carbon.
Recent shock wave experiments, mimicking extreme conditions on other planets, have more definitively demonstrated the temperature and pressure boundaries between the assorted forms of carbon. These latest findings were combined with what is known about the temperatures and pressures inside Saturn and Jupiter.
Astrophysicists allege that potent lightning storms in the planets’ atmospheres create carbon particles similar to soot, that float down through the gas. The falling carbon is crushed by the immense pressures existing on Saturn and Jupiter, resulting in the formation of dense diamond masses. In areas of drastic planetary density, there may be diamond rain, or even a layer of diamond ocean.
These planets are not only externally composed of gas, but possess interiors of scalding hot, pressurized gas. In the uppermost part of Saturn’s atmosphere, carbon would be soot, but during its fall, it would become graphite at approximately 3,140 degrees F. As it neared the planet’s core, a searing 4,940 degrees F, it would become diamonds. This region is so deep within the planet that its atmosphere is impossible to observe with spacecraft.
The centers of Jupiter and Saturn could melt diamond, but the cores of Uranus and Neptune – at a comparatively nippy 10,340 F – are cool enough to keep the precious stone solid. Despite previous research to the contrary, it’s unlikely that diamonds could form liquid oceans on Uranus and Neptune. Uranus and Neptune may also have a core of solid diamond crystals.
There is speculation that hand-sized diamonds exist on these planets, and that on Saturn, there could be up to 10 million tons of diamonds created from lightning-spawned soot, in areas of temperature and pressure where carbon could survive as solid diamond. It’s also been theorized that, rather than forming chunks of the glittering gem, there may, instead, be clouds of condensed diamond matter floating in the atmosphere.
Is there a way of getting a hold of these intergalactic treasures? Most likely not. The sought-after stones would be deep within these planets, in areas that are virtually unreachable. The temperatures would have a blast furnace intensity, along with pressures which are a million times that of the earth’s surface.
And don’t count on NASA to launch any diamond-mining missions, although more may soon be known about the deep space diamonds. The Juno spacecraft will reach Jupiter in 2016 and the Cassini spacecraft will visit Saturn in 2017, amassing information about these planets’ magnetic fields and gravity fields.
These spacecraft won’t plunge deeply enough into the planets to investigate the potential diamond zones, but they’ll be able to explore whether or not they can detect evidence of density shifts that would take place close to where diamonds are anticipated to develop.
It just goes to show that Lucy isn’t the only one in the sky with diamonds.