Diamonds in the sky on Neptune and Uranus

Look up in the sky and it's picturesque; Take a look before the planets go away.
By Dirk Trudeau | Aug 26, 2017
According to scientists' calculations, the pressure beneath the surfaces of the icy gas giants Uranus and Neptune is so powerful that tightly packed carbon atoms form diamonds, which rain through the interior of the planet towards its solid core. But nobody has actually seen the phenomenon until now, that is.

In a study published in the journal Nature Astrophysics, an international team of researchers describe recreating this diamond rain in the laboratory.

Using the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory at Stanford University in California, the team led by Dominik Kraus from the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf Research Center subjected the plastic polystyrene to shockwaves produced by SLAC's X-ray free-electron laser, known as the Linac Coherent Light Source. And presto! Nearly all the carbon atoms in the polystyrene combined into tiny diamond-like structures.

"Previously, researchers could only assume that the diamonds had formed," said lead author Kraus, in a report by Cosmos. "When I saw the results of the experiment, it was one of the best moments of my scientific career."

While the diamonds raining down inside Neptune and Uranus could weigh gazillions of carats, the gems created by Kraus's team were ephemeral lasting a fraction of a second and only a few nanometers in diameter.

Being able to create diamonds in the laboratory has uses that go beyond planetary science.

According to co-author Dirk Gericke from the University of Warwick, the new technique could be used to make diamonds for industrial applications, such as polishing.

"There is a need to actually create artificial diamonds, even small ones, and the technique now is by explosives," said Gericke, in a report by The Guardian. "The question is can you make the same thing by lasers, a little bit more efficiently."


We are dedicated to maintaining a respectful community that actively engages in lively discussions about news stories and blog posts. Please keep the following in mind when writing your comments.