Tech UPTechnologyPlanets where it rains diamonds could be very numerous...

Planets where it rains diamonds could be very numerous in the universe

The strange hypothetical precipitations presented by planets like Uranus and Neptune that cause them to rain diamonds, could be more common than we thought according to a new study.

Deep inside Neptune and Uranus, it’s raining diamonds, or so astronomers and physicists have suspected for nearly 40 years. However, as the outer planets of our solar system are difficult to study, the diamond shower remains only a hypothesis. But it exists as such.

Scientists have theorized that extremely high pressure and temperatures convert hydrogen and carbon into solid diamonds thousands of kilometers below the surface of the ice giants.

Something relatively common throughout the galaxy

Now, new research, published in the journal Science Advances, concludes that the “rain of diamonds” could be more common than previously thought.

Scientists from Germany, France and the US modified previous experiments, using a new material that is more like the chemistry found in ice giants and is nothing exotic, but a type of PET plastic that is commonly used in bottles that we all buy in supermarkets.

Using the plastic as a surrogate for the chemistry of an ice giant’s atmosphere, they then removed it with a laser to simulate the atmospheric pressures present on those planets to see what would happen (since mixtures of compounds made of hydrogen and carbon are present for use 8,000 kilometers below the surface of Uranus and Neptune).

Making diamonds from used plastic bottles

The high-power optical laser in SLAC’s Linac coherent light source, which they used to briefly heat the sample to 6000°C, generated a shock wave that compressed the material for a few nanoseconds at a million times atmospheric pressure. Using a method called X-ray diffraction, the scientists looked at how the atoms rearranged themselves into tiny diamond regions and how fast they grew.

“The effect of oxygen was to speed up the splitting of carbon and hydrogen and thus encourage the formation of nanodiamonds,” said Dominik Kraus , a physicist and professor at the University of Rostock in Germany. “It meant that carbon atoms could more easily combine and form diamonds.”

Their technology could help limit plastic waste, as recycled nanodiamonds have a wide range of applications, including medical sensors and drug delivery.

“The way nanodiamonds are currently made is by taking a bunch of carbon or diamond and blowing them up with explosives,” said SLAC collaborator scientist Benjamin Ofori-Okai. “This creates nanodiamonds of various sizes and shapes and is difficult to control. What we are seeing in this experiment is different reactivity of the same species under high temperature and pressure. In some cases, diamonds appear to form faster than others. suggesting that the presence of these other chemicals may speed up this process. Laser production could offer a cleaner, more easily controlled method of producing nanodiamonds. If we can design ways to change a few things about the reactivity, we can change the how quickly they are produced and therefore how big they get.

Regarding the experiment, they are planning to carry out similar ones using liquid samples with ethanol, water and ammonia to better understand how this curious rain of diamonds is formed on planets such as Uranus and Neptune. “Adding oxygen brings us closer than ever to seeing the full picture of these planetary processes, but there is still more work to be done. It’s a step on the way to getting the most realistic mix and seeing how these materials actually behave on other planets.”

Referencia: Zhiyu He et al, Diamond formation kinetics in shock-compressed C-H-O samples recorded by small-angle X-ray scattering and X-ray diffraction, Science Advances (2022). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abo0617.

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