Planet Sized Diamonds
Friday, November 02, 2012
Diamonds hold a special place in the consciousness of our society. Reputed to be “a girl’s best friend” and “are forever”, these sparkly crystals of super-pressurized carbon are precious because of their beauty, their strength and their rarity. Imagine then, if you will, a diamond twice the size of Earth.
Rather than simply a gem merchant’s fantasy, that is essentially what has been discovered by researchers from Yale University. As published in the Yale Times, a team of that institution’s astronomical scientists have discovered a planet made mostly of the highly valuable resource.
“This is our first glimpse of a rocky world with a fundamentally different chemistry from Earth,” Team leader Nikku Madhusudha explained. “The surface of this planet is likely covered in graphite and diamond rather than water and granite.”
Rather than applying the obvious moniker “Uber-Bling”, this planet’s name is the somewhat more pedestrian handle of 55 Cancri ee. It is located a mere forty light years away from us; a figure so large, the average calculator doesn’t contain enough digits to compute it. As intriguing and obviously commercially valuable as it would be, if it was relocated to a closer neighborhood, the diamond planet would be a hostile takeover indeed. It has an average temperature of 3,900 degrees Fahrenheit and whizzes around its sun in a mere 18 hours, compared to Earth’s much more laid back 365 day round trip.
Although the planet’s radius is twice as large as our own terra firma, because of its composition, the Yale group estimated the mass of their shiny new planet was eight times greater than ours. This is because of the high carbon content of 55Cancri ee. The element accounts for a third of the planet’s composition which would be three Earths in comparison.
“By contrast, Earth’s interior is rich in oxygen, but extremely poor in carbon — less than a part in thousand by mass,” Yale geophysicist Kanani Lee, who co-authored the report, added.
According to the study, this discovery will force the geo-astronomic community to let go of assumptions that other planets that await discovery will be similar in design and structure to our own.
Princeton University’s professor of astronomy and chair of astrophysical sciences, Dr. David Spergel commented on his peers’ research in the Yale account, “Stars are simple — given a star's mass and age, you know its basic structure and history, Planets are much more complex. This ‘diamond-rich super-Earth’ is likely just one example of the rich sets of discoveries that await us as we begin to explore planets around nearby stars."