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August 2017

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Celebrating the Solar Eclipse, August 21, 2017: Diamonds in Outer Space

In honor of the “Great American Total Solar Eclipse” that will be viewable in parts of the US next week, on August 21st, we’re reprising our blog post about diamonds in outer space. Experts are advising to watch out for the big ‘diamond ring’ effect that will be visible at the peak of the eclipse. How does it happen? As the moon covers the sun, the sun’s rays appear as a round string of beads, called “Baily’s beads”. As the eclipse continues, the last remaining bead appears as a bright diamond on a glowing ‘ring’ of the sun behind the moon’s edge. To understand the true beauty of diamonds, look to the sky and look to outer space. Enjoy! 

 

The story of how diamonds are formed has been told numerous times by geologists. It is an age old story of carbon and other carbon-based materials put under tremendous heat and pressure over millions of years and then pushed up from the Earth’s mantle through volcanic eruptions. But relatively recently, scientists have discovered that a new form of diamond exists. One previously unknown and never written about in the story books. It is now known that there are diamonds in outer space; some, tiny fragments not even big enough to put on a ring, but more recently, stars as big as the sun and planets as big as the Earth, comprised largely of diamond.

Black Diamonds: A Gift from Space

Black diamonds have always been different than other diamonds, not just in color, but also in composition. Conventional diamonds are mined from the Earth, formed by explosive volcanic rocks known as kimberlites that transport them from the Earth’s mantle to its surface in a very short amount of time. No matter the area in which they are found, traditional diamonds are virtually identical in their makeup. Known as Carbonado diamonds, the makeup and formation of black diamonds is not compatible with any of the conventional diamonds. Not only that: around 600 tons of conventional diamonds have been mined since 1900, but no black diamonds have been discovered within a mine. Scientists have long been considering where these diamonds have come from. Two Florida International University scientists in combination with two Western Reserve University researchers began to explore the idea that there are diamonds in outer space, and that this is the origin of the carbonado diamond. And new data supports that theory: carbondo diamonds formed in stellar supernovae explosions. They have also determined that these black diamonds were once the size of asteroids, a kilometer or more in diameter, when they first landed on the Earth.

Scientists were able to prove many of their theories about diamonds in outer space when the Almahata Sitta meteorite fell to Earth and exploded over the Nubian Desert in Sudan. They were able to recover many of the meteorite fragments and examine them. The fragments contained diamonds that were much larger than any the scientists had previously seen, leading them to believe that the diamonds come from a planet that existed when our solar system was forming, and has since shattered. Scientists believe that the diamonds are formed when asteroids collide, where the heavy impact crushes the carbon to form diamonds.

Seeing Stars…or Diamonds?

What if the twinkling of stars was caused by more than atmospheric gases? What if the brilliant glitter seen in the night sky was in fact a diamond? An extremely large one. According to researchers, a star the size of Earth has been discovered, composed entirely of diamond. The star, called a white dwarf, is the end state of a star similar to the sun. The star is made up primarily of carbon and oxygen, which, once dead, begins to cool over long periods of time. This star has been cooling for about 11 billion years, and has gotten so cold that the carbon has crystallized, forming a huge diamond in space.

The Diamond Planet

Many of the largest diamonds found on Earth are currently displayed in museums, however, the largest diamond ever found, a massive 10 billion trillion trillion carat diamond, has not even been touched. The reason? This diamond was not found on Earth, but in space. This huge diamond is actually a planet, known as a “super-Earth” named 55 Cancri e. The planet, discovered in 2004, is made up primarily of carbon, in the form of diamond and graphite. 55 Cancri e has a radius twice the width of the Earth and a mass which is eight times larger. It makes a complete orbit in just 18 hours, as opposed to the Earth’s 365 days. Its surface temperature reaches a burning 3,900 degrees Fahrenheit (2,100 degrees Celsius). And at least one third of this plant is composed of pure diamond.

According to astronomers who have studied the planet, jewelers would need a loupe the size of the sun in order to grade the diamond, and it would be so expensive that even the richest people in the world couldn’t afford it, even if they pooled their money.

What was once believed to be a gem unique to the Earth due to its formation has now been found to be even more unique than previously thought. While aliens may or may not exist, the knowledge that there are diamonds in outer space brings a little chunk of fantasy to life.

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