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True Gem: You Can Measure this Planet in Carats Because it’s Made Of Diamonds

Representational image.

Representational image.

While Earth is composed of mainly water and granite, exoplanets orbiting carbon-rich stars are made of diamond and silica, according to research from Arizona State University

Diamonds are forever and many more slogans exist on this planet to signify the importance of this gem. What makes a diamond special is its rarity. But what if it was ubiquitous, like pebbles on a beach? Just imagine, would it still be precious for us then?

Now we have evidence to suggest that some extra-planetary bodies in our galaxy might be made out of diamonds. According to a DailyMail article, planets circling stars with higher carbon ratios are rich in carbon by design. And diamonds are, after all, highly pressurized carbon. This leads scientists to believe if favourable conditions are present (extreme heat, extreme pressure, and little to no moisture or organic activity), it is very possible for the exo-planets themselves to be made of diamonds.

“These exoplanets are unlike anything in our solar system,” said lead author Harrison Allen-Sutter of Arizona State University's School of Earth and Space Exploration. The team has recreated a possible crystallized interior of one of these planets. The experiment was done using a ‘diamond-anvil’ cell at their Earth and Planetary Materials lab.

A diamond anvil cell is a device that allows extreme compression to take place. The device uses two diamonds on the opposite end, shaped like an anvil, to create the compression. Diamonds are not only the hardest material known on Earth, but they are also resilient to electromagnetism, making them the perfect choice for mimicking planetary pressure simulations.

In their experiment, the scientists at ASU used silicon carbide immersed in water to put intense pressure and heat using lasers and X-ray measurements. At the end of the experiment, the silicon carbide converted into two groups; diamonds and silica.

The proposed theory isn’t new. In 2012, a group of scientists observed an exoplanet orbiting star 55 Cancri A and reported it was likely made of diamonds. The experiment is further proof of that observation. The observers also posited that Janssen, closest to 55 Cancri A, could be one-third diamonds!

“This is our first glimpse of a rocky world with fundamentally different chemistry from Earth,” Nikku Madhusudhan, an astrophysicist at Cambridge's Institute of Astronomy, said at the time. In our solar system, the central star (Sun) has lower carbon to oxygen ratio. As a result, most planets orbiting the sun are composed of water and granite, with very low diamond content (including our planet).

first published:September 15, 2020, 12:26 IST