A di­a­mond rain is gonna fall

An astro­nom­i­cal the­ory is now backed by lab­o­ra­tory ev­i­dence.

Cosmos - - Digest -

Astronomers call it “di­a­mond rain”, but no one has ever seen it – un­til now.

Ac­cord­ing to cal­cu­la­tions, pres­sures on the icy gi­ant plan­ets Uranus and Nep­tune are so great that car­bon atoms squeeze tightly to­gether to form di­a­monds, which then fall through the plan­ets’ softer lay­ers to­wards their solid cores.

Now sci­en­tists us­ing the SLAC Na­tional Ac­cel­er­a­tor Lab­o­ra­tory at Stan­ford Univer­sity in Cal­i­for­nia have suc­ceeded in cre­at­ing the phe­nom­e­non – al­beit very briefly. A team led by Do­minik Kraus from the Helmholtz Zen­trum Dres­den-rossendorf re­search cen­tre in Ger­many sub­jected a piece of plas­tic to the in­tense energy pro­duced by SLAC’S X-ray free-elec­tron laser.

The ex­per­i­ment caused al­most all the plas­tic’s car­bon atoms to com­bine into di­a­monds a few nanome­tres wide.

“Pre­vi­ously, re­searchers could only as­sume that the di­a­monds had formed,” Kraus says. “When I saw the re­sults of this lat­est ex­per­i­ment, it was one of the best mo­ments of my sci­en­tific ca­reer.”

Astronomers think the forces in the frozen man­tles of Uranus and Nep­tune are so pow­er­ful that the di­a­monds formed could weigh mil­lions of carats. It is pos­si­ble the solid cores of both plan­ets boast a thick di­a­mond coat­ing.

While the plan­ets have had bil­lions of years in which to cre­ate their di­a­mond cargo, the ex­per­i­ment us­ing SLAC lasted a cou­ple of quadrillionths of a sec­ond – long enough, nev­er­the­less, for the process to be ob­served, mea­sured and recorded.

“We can’t go in­side the plan­ets and look at them, so these lab­o­ra­tory ex­per­i­ments com­ple­ment satel­lite and te­le­scope ob­ser­va­tions,” Kraus says.

The re­search, pub­lished in the jour­nal Na­ture As­tron­omy, pro­vides in­sights into pos­si­ble dis­tant plan­e­tary pro­cesses, but it might also pro­duce ben­e­fits here on Earth.

Nan­odi­a­monds are widely used in medicine and in­dus­try. Cur­rently they are cre­ated us­ing con­trolled ex­plo­sions. Us­ing a laser is a more ef­fi­cient, and much safer, method of man­u­fac­ture.

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