Science

Massive diamonds develop on Neptune and Uranus

Massive diamonds develop on Neptune and Uranus”

Scientists have been discussing the theory about the possibility of diamond rain in Uranus and Neptune, the icy giant planets in our solar system.

The research collaboration includes scientists from Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf in Germany, University of California-Berkeley, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research in Germany, Osaka University in Japan, Technical University of Darmstadt in Germany, European XFEL, University of Michigan, University of Warwick in the United Kingdom and SLAC. The experiment has seen the scientists attempt to adequately recreate the conditions on Neptune and Uranus in a controlled laboratory environment.

The team from the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory says it used an optical laser from the Matter In Extreme Conditions instrument to demonstrate how, deep within the gas giants, high pressure can bond hydrogen and carbon atoms to create nanometre-wide "diamonds" that fall through the dense atmosphere. It is also possible that the solid cores of both planets are coated with a thick diamond outer layer. That was precisely the breakthrough Kraus and his worldwide team have now achieved: "In our experiment, we exposed a special kind of plastic - polystyrene, which also consists of a mix of carbon and hydrogen - to conditions similar to those inside Neptune or Uranus". "When the shock waves overlap, that's the moment the pressure peaks and when most of the diamonds form". The team produced two shock waves, with the second faster than the first.

During those moments, the team probed the reaction with pulses of X-rays from LCLS that last just 50 femtoseconds.

"For this experiment, we had LCLS, the brightest X-ray source in the world", said Siegfried Glenzer, professor of photon science at SLAC and a co-author of the paper, published in Nature Astronomy. He further explained, "This means that there is not necessarily a pure diamond core but certainly a large diamond envelope around the rocky cores that are supposed to exist inside Neptune and Uranus".

Writing in the journal Nature Astronomy, Gericke and an global team of researchers reveal how they fired lasers at humble polystyrene - a substitute for the hydrocarbons found within Neptune and Uranus. Knowing how elements fuse together under different pressures can provide essential information on how scientists calculate the relationship between a planet's mass and radius, for example.

Astronomers call it "diamond rain", and no one's ever seen it - until now.

Dr Kraus said: 'We can't go inside the planets and look at them, so these laboratory experiments complement satellite and telescope observations'.

Next, the team hopes to use the same methods to study other processes that might happen inside planets. The team says creating nanodiamonds with lasers is a more efficient technique than the way they're now made - using explosives - and the end result is a useful component in electronics and scientific equipment. Now they are created by means of controlled explosions.



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