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Space + FlightSpace & Flight

Diamonds in the Clouds of Their Skies

ByTim De ChantNOVA NextNOVA Next

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Other planets can be peculiar places. Venus, for example is sheathed in a scorching maelstrom of high-pressure carbon dioxide. Jupiter’s cyclone—which is large enough to swallow Earth—has raged for hundreds of years. And astronomers suspect that exoplanet HD 189773b is showered with raining glass , giving it a bluish tint.

But right here, in our own solar system, there are planets that may have more precious precipitation. The lower atmospheres on Jupiter and Saturn, planetary scientists suspect, may literally be raining diamonds. The process is sparked by lightning, which they think splits methane into its component elements, giving carbon a chance to take a pure form.

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Saturn may contain 10 million tons of diamond.

Andrew Fazekas, reporting for National Geographic News:

Dark stormy regions seen on infrared images are thought to correspond to the breakup of methane molecules into carbon, most probably soot particles.

Once formed, the new theory states, noncrystalline carbon sinks down through the atmosphere until it reaches an altitude of similar density and is converted to graphite under the increasing pressure. The graphite continues its descent into the deeper depths of Saturn’s atmosphere until pressure and temperature builds and converts the material into solid diamonds.

The process may produce up to one thousand tons of diamonds per year, and the planet may contain up to 10 million tons total. On the more massive Jupiter, diamonds may fall on seas of liquid diamond, its solid form having been forced into a fluid state by the immense temperature and pressure that far down. Uranus and Neptune, with their atmospheres’ higher methane content, may have similar diamond oceans.

These theories most likely have been a result of our growing understanding of the fantastic properties of carbon .

Photo credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute