October 10, 2013
Jupiter And Saturn May Be Massive Diamond Mines
[ Watch the Video: Are There Diamonds On Saturn And Jupiter? ]
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
A team from the California Specialty Engineering and the University of Wisconsin, Madison said that Jupiter and Saturn could contain solid diamonds in their cores. The scientists say that liquid diamonds could also be found deeper inside the core because temperatures would be so high that the gems would melt.
Scientists have believed for some time that Neptune and Uranus likely contain diamonds deep below their surfaces, but this is the first time a team has reported similar evidence for Jupiter and Saturn. The diamond core on Neptune and Uranus would most likely stay solid because the temperatures inside these planets are lower.
"Previously, only Uranus and Neptune were thought to have conditions in their interiors that would allow the formation of diamond at their cores. It appears that the interior of Jupiter gets hot enough to reach the liquid diamond region of the carbon phase diagram, whereas the interior of Saturn includes regions of temperature and pressure where carbon could exist as solid diamond," the researchers said in an abstract written about their findings.
According to the researchers, diamonds in the solar system's two biggest planets formed from methane found in their atmospheres. During lightning storms on these planets, this smelly gas blasts apart to create fluffy, jet-black soot similar to what is found inside a fireplace. The team traced where the soot ends up by using calculations developed by scientists to look deep inside planets. They also used recent data showing how carbon reacts to high temperatures and pressures.
"As carbon descends through the atmosphere, amorphous carbon becomes graphite which then is converted into diamond, creating various strata of carbon allotropes according to their densities," the researchers said.
Findings revealed that the sinking soot first turns into graphite, which is a form of carbon used in pencils. As the bits of graphite continue their journey to the center of the planet, the growing pressure and temperature squeeze and heat them into specks of diamonds floating in a sea of helium and hydrogen.
"This kind of study shows that we are still far from understanding the composition and structure of Jupiter and Saturn, two planets which are respectively about 300 and 100 times the mass of our Earth and were crucial players when the whole Solar System formed," Tristan Guillot, planetary researcher at the Observatoire de la Cote d'Azur in France, told CNN.
Although the idea of mining for diamonds on another planet seems intriguing, Peter Read, professor of physics at the University of Oxford, says we shouldn't get ahead of ourselves. He told CNN that diamonds in these planets would look different than what we have on Earth, adding that they could be clouds of condensed diamond material.
Regardless of whether or not man will be able to actually utilize this resource in the future, the concept of a diamond core itself remains a subject of interest to scientists. The researchers said that Jupiter and Saturn could be holding "diamond rain" or even "diamond oceans."
"At the boundaries (locations of sharp increases in density) on Jupiter and Saturn, there may be diamond rain or diamond oceans sitting as a layer," the team said. "However, in Uranus and Neptune, the temperatures never reach as high as 8,000K (14,000 Fahrenheit). The cores are -5,000K (-8,500 Fahrenheit), too cold for diamond to melt on these planets. Therefore, it appears that diamonds are forever on Uranus and Neptune but not on Jupiter and Saturn."