This planet is a treasure. The cratered crust of the planet Mercury also appears to be covered in diamonds. As planetary scientist Kevin Cannon reported at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas, United States, computer simulations of the planet Mercury predict billions of years of asteroid collisions appear to have transformed about a third of the crust of the small planet in a reserve of diamonds incredibly larger than what we have on Earth.
a beautiful planet
Mercury isn’t just a hot hunk of rock orbiting close to the Sun (it’s the closest planet to our star). Although it is smaller than two of our solar system’s moons (Titan and Ganymede), it is a complex world geologically speaking, including the likely presence of many jewels.
When Mercury formed, experts say, it would have had an ocean of magma and graphite would have crystallized from that magma.
Thus, according to his research, the space rocks that crashed about 4 billion years ago during a violent and destructive period called the Late Heavy Bombardment (LHB), against the graphite that covers much of the planet could have crushed this material into diamond fragments . During that time, there were a large number of collisions with the planets and objects in the inner solar system (and why Mercury has such a variety of craters).
“The pressure wave from asteroids or comets hitting the surface at tens of kilometers per second could transform that graphite into diamonds,” says Cannon of the Colorado School of Mines. “You could have a significant amount of diamonds near the surface.”
Asteroids and comets crashing into the planet’s crust at tens of kilometers per second create pressures high enough to turn graphite into diamond. So much so that the new study suggests that Mercury’s crust, which would have had a graphite layer 300 meters thick, could contain up to 16 quadrillion tons of diamonds (about 16 times Earth’s estimated diamond reserves).
“That’s the number my models get for the entire crust of Mercury, but it’s likely that only a small fraction of the material on the surface is diamond,” explains Cannon. “Maybe one or two percent at most.”
Diamonds, mind you, would not be similar to the transparent gemstones “that we cut and make into jewelry. A better comparison is the small cloudy diamonds used in industry as abrasives, probably in a messy mix with graphite and other forms of carbon.
Why is it difficult to explore Mercury?
His gravity level is extremely high. Its temperature is also highly variable: it ranges from -180ºC to 430ºC, very extreme conditions for humans to physically explore it. And, as if this were not enough, it is very far away.
Future simulations will incorporate recasting of the collisions, to refine the potential size of Mercury’s current diamond reserves , as some of the gemstones would have been destroyed by later impacts.
We haven’t set foot on the planet yet.
The next spacecraft to visit Mercury could shed more light on its turbulent past and whether it really does present this accumulation of diamonds today. The European and Japanese space agencies’ BepiColombo mission launched in 2018, with orbiters due to arrive at their destination in 2025, allowing scientists to search for more direct signs of diamonds on the enigmatic planet.
Referencia: K.M. Cannon. Mercury and other diamond encrusted planets. Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, The Woodlands, Texas, March 10, 2022.