Scientists figure out how to make it rain diamonds

Pablo Tucker
August 23, 2017

Researchers from Stanford have shown how the frigid, high-pressure atmospheres of the planets Uranus and Neptune can create a "rain" of diamonds. Now, they successfully recreated the phenomenon inside a laboratory.

British researchers, for instance, have mimicked the atmospheric conditions on both planets to test whether a long-standing and curious assumption has any footing.

On Uranus or Neptune, however, these crystals would be significantly larger - so much so that the team predicted they could be millions of carats in weight, gathering around the planets' core and forming thick layers of glittering diamonds. This is the first time the reaction has been seen, adding evidence to the theory that diamonds form this way in the planets' interiors. Polystyrene is composed of a mixture of hydrogen and carbon, similar to the chemical composition of Neptune and Uranus.

They fired lasers at the polystyrene which rapidly heated up its surface, causing it to generate a shock wave and expand. A second shock wave, this time faster, was made by a second pulse.

When the shock waves caught up with each other, it caused the temperature and pressure to rise up to 5,000 K and 150 GPA respectively.

The findings help to pin down the interior compositions of giant gaseous planets, the majority of which exist so deep that current instruments can not penetrate.

The experiment was enough for the bonds between hydrogen and carbon within the polystyrene to break. Kraus says that the market is in demand for artificial diamonds and some applications require finely sized ones - sounds like a ideal fit to me, though it remains to be seen whether it will also be economically feasible. "The problem with diamond anvil cell experiments is that it is very hard to distinguish tiny pieces of diamond created from hydrocarbons to diamond pieces that might stem from the comparably huge diamond anvils themselves", said Kraus. While we'll never get to see diamond rain with our own eyes, we can content ourselves with the knowledge that giant diamonds are raining down on a planet not too far from our own.

While the earth has experienced freak rainstorms of fish, frogs and even golfballs, its sister planets Neptune and Uranus routinely produce something altogether more impressive, scientists have revealed.

"The key result of this paper is that we produce diamonds out of plastic". That pressure is what squeezes the carbon into graphite and then again into diamond. "Here instead we have formed them from two species, carbon and hydrogen". At the moment, the research is more focused on the potential of artificially created nanodiamonds which could be used in various commercial and industrial applications. It's also under the effect of gravity, so it would truly fall to the middle of the planet as "diamond rain".

What are your thoughts on the possibility of recreating diamond rain on a larger scale? We know both have a solid core, that temperatures and pressure can be very high or that both have a dense atmosphere.

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