Diamond Rain Falls On Uranus And Neptune

Posted: Aug 25 2017, 2:35pm CDT | by , Updated: Aug 25 2017, 2:46pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
Diamond Rain Falls on Uranus and Neptune
Credit: NASA

Diamond rain which was long hypothesized to fall icy giants has been recreated in the laboratory for the first time

It rains diamond on icy giant planets of our solar system and researchers are able to create this kind of diamond rain in lab for the first time.

In the interior of Uranus and Neptune, carbon and hydrogen is abundant and extreme pressures squeeze them so hard that they turn into solid diamond and slide down further into the interior. The biggest diamond would likely weigh about millions of carats or hundreds of kilograms.

Uranus and Neptune are very similar to each other. Both planets are largely made up of water and gases, but their cores are solid. Researchers suggest that molecules, such as methane, that are composed of hydrogen and carbon cause glittering precipitation on these planets.

The concept of diamond rain on outer planets has been around for a while, but it was never proven.

Now, researchers have mimicked the environment found inside these planets by creating shock waves in plastic with an intense laser and are able to produce diamond rain in the experiment for the first time. The diamond structures created in lab conditions were only up to a few nanometers wide. Researchers predict that diamonds would become much larger on Neptune and Uranus and slowly sink through the planets' ice layers.

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

To determine whether diamond rain falls on icy giant planets, researchers have tried to replicate diamond rain in labs before and subjected it to the conditions of the planets. For now, this is the only approach possible because astronomers observe these planets from outside through satellites and telescopes and cannot send a probe down there.

Earlier experiments failed to capture measurements in real time, due to the fact that these tiny diamonds form only for very brief time in the laboratory. However, researchers were able to see hints of diamond formation.

In the latest effort, researchers used high-powered x-ray laser to create pairs of shock waves in the plastic with the correct combination of temperature and pressure and actually watched the making of diamonds for the first time.

"For this experiment, we had LCLS, the brightest X-ray source in the world," said co-author Professor Siegfried Glenzer. "You need these intense, fast pulses of X-rays to unambiguously see the structure of these diamonds, because they are only formed in the laboratory for such a very short time."

A better understanding of this rain is needed to look at other processes that occur in the interiors of planets and even more importantly it will help scientists understand and improve fusion experiments where forms of hydrogen combine to form helium to generate vast amounts of energy.

“Simulations don't really capture what we're observing in this field," said Glenzer. "Our study and others provide evidence that matter clumping in these types of high-pressure conditions is a force to be reckoned with."

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.

 

 

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