Home » Diamond Rain On Icy Planets Like Uranus And Neptune More Common Than First Thought, A New Study Finds

Diamond Rain On Icy Planets Like Uranus And Neptune More Common Than First Thought, A New Study Finds

by Simran Dolwani

Researchers at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, California, have found that diamond rain on icy planets like Uranus and Neptune is more common than previously speculated. They investigated this process on a new material having a chemical composition similar to Uranus and Neptune. They found that oxygen supported the diamond formation and helped them grow under various conditions.

Image Credits: Pixabay

What is diamond rain?

Diamond rain is an exotic precipitation process seen on planets like Uranus and Neptune. It forms when carbon and hydrogen found in the interior core of these planets are compressed under high pressure and turn into solid diamonds that further sink into the interior. Previously, researchers mimicked extreme conditions on earth similar to icy planets (Neptune and Uranus), including pressure and temperature and observed diamond rain formation for the first time. SLAC researchers continued with experiments to find out more about it. The new study explains how diamond rain forms on planets, including earth. This can help to produce nanodiamonds that are used for various purposes, such as sustainable manufacturing, antibiotics production, quantum electronics, etc. 

The making of diamond rain

Previously, researchers studied a plastic material composed of carbon and hydrogen, elements forming the chemical composition of Uranus and Neptune. However, they also contain other components, such as oxygen. In the current experiment, researchers used PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) plastic used in food packaging, containers and plastic bottle manufacturing to mimic the composition of these planets. 

“PET has a good balance between carbon, hydrogen and oxygen to simulate the activity in ice planets,” said Dominik Kraus, the study’s co-author. 

The researchers used high-power optical instruments to make shock waves (intense wave pressure) in PET. Then, they used X-Ray diffraction (a method used to assess the solid structures) to see the arrangement and conversion of atoms into diamond molecules. They also used the small angle scattering method to measure the speed (rate) of the process. They found that oxygen within the material helped nanodiamonds to form and grow at lower temperatures and pressures than previously seen. 

Image Credits: Pixabay

“The effect of the oxygen was to accelerate the splitting of the carbon and hydrogen and thus encourage the formation of nanodiamonds,” said Kraus. “It meant the carbon atoms could combine more easily and form diamonds.”

Diamonds on icy giants

The researchers believe that diamonds on icy planets will become much large and weigh higher than the diamonds produced in these experiments. They will sink gradually through the planets’ layers and form a thick coating around their cores. They also found evidence of the formation of superionic water on these planets. Superionic water is formed when extreme conditions like high temperatures and pressures break water molecules, where free-floating hydrogen ions revolve around oxygen ions. Detailed research on this can help us understand the unusual magnetic behaviour of Uranus and Neptune. 

The future of diamond rain on the earth

The research shows a new way of manufacturing nanodiamonds on earth using PET plastic and shock compression. In the future, these nanodiamonds can be used for quantum sensors, medical purposes and renewable energy production. 

Currently, nanodiamonds are formed by exploding a bunch of carbon and diamond. This makes nanodiamonds of various sizes and shapes which are difficult to control. However, the recent experiment suggests new methods and chemicals which can boost the process and increase nanodiamond production. 

The study was published in the journal Science Advances

To ‘science-up’ your social media feed, follow us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram!
Follow us on Medium!

Related Articles

Leave a Comment