Key Takeaways:

  1. Groundbreaking lab experiment indicates diamonds might form and rain inside Uranus and Neptune, challenging previous theories.
  2. Researchers utilized the powerful LCLS at SLAC to simulate conditions 10,000 kilometers within Neptune, revealing a surprising phenomenon.
  3. Under extreme pressure and scorching temperatures, hydrocarbons separate into carbon and hydrogen, with a quarter of carbon forming diamonds.
  4. This discovery sheds light on the intricate process of elemental combination, a complex phenomenon challenging computational modeling.
  5. Diamond rain contributes to the energy equilibrium of Uranus and Neptune, maintaining their interior warmth through friction-generated heat.

Uranus and Neptune, often referred to as the “ice giants,” conceal a remarkable secret beneath their icy facades. These distant planets harbor conditions of such intensity that they facilitate extraordinary physical transformations. Scientists have long theorized the possibility of diamonds forming and cascading within these celestial bodies. Recent experimental evidence, detailed in Nature Communication, adds weight to this hypothesis.

The study harnessed the unparalleled capabilities of SLAC’s Linac Coherent Light Source, delving into the behavior of a hydrocarbon under the staggering pressure and temperature conditions existing some 10,000 kilometers within Neptune. Here, at approximately 1.5 million atmospheres of pressure and a searing 4,730 °C (8,540 °F), the hydrocarbon undergoes a remarkable separation into its elemental constituents: carbon and hydrogen. Astonishingly, laboratory tests revealed that a minimum of a quarter of the carbon coalesces into clusters, within which carbon takes on its most robust structure: diamonds.

Director of LCLS, Mike Dunne, articulated the significance of this research, emphasizing its challenge in computational modeling. He likened it to the process of coaxing mayonnaise to revert back into its base components of oil and vinegar. Dr. Dominik Kraus, the lead author from Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf, noted that in the case of the ice giants, carbon overwhelmingly adopts a diamond form upon separation, bypassing a fluid transitional state.

Artisti impression of the x-ray scattering method used to study how diamonds might form inside Neptune or Uranus. HZDR / Sahneweiß

This diamond precipitation within Neptune and Uranus serves a pivotal function in maintaining their internal energy equilibrium. Freshly formed diamonds descend, generating heat through friction with the surrounding dense material. This process ultimately sustains the warmth within the planets’ cores. Beyond its implications for understanding these enigmatic planets, the experimental technique pioneered by Kraus bears broader applications.

It can be employed to explore the behaviors of extreme conditions on hydrogen in scenarios akin to those found in compact stars or nuclear fusion reactors. Such investigations hold critical importance in advancing our mastery of fusion processes, an arena where gaps in comprehension persist.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments