There’s Something Of Incredible Value Forming Inside Neptune And Uranus

by : Cameron Frew on : 30 Jun 2020 17:10
There's Something Of Incredible Value Forming Inside Neptune And UranusThere's Something Of Incredible Value Forming Inside Neptune And UranusPA/NASA

To twist the great words of Toto, I bless the diamond rains down in Uranus and Neptune. 


Compared to our lovely chemical balance on Earth, the Solar System we know and inhabit is wildly different across all nine planets (yes, I’m still clinging onto Pluto). Whether it be Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune and Uranus, these gassy, icy giants are ‘natural laboratories for the physics of matter at extreme temperatures and pressures’.

While it’s unlikely we’ll ever set foot on most of our planetary siblings – you’d literally just fall through Jupiter – efforts to understand what goes on under their clouds is a constant in scientific research. The latest development is startling; diamonds are forever, indeed.

Scientists from the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory used the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) X-ray laser to examine how hydrocarbon would behave under the incredible conditions inside these planets.


Eric Galtier, SLAC scientist and co-author of the study published in Nature Communications, explained in a news release: ‘One set of scattered photons revealed the extreme temperatures and pressures reached in the sample, which mimic those found 10,000 kilometers beneath the surface of Uranus and Neptune.’

He added: ‘The other revealed how the hydrogen and carbon atoms separated in response to these conditions.’ For context, at this point on Neptune, the temperature is sits at around 4,730C.

NASA: 25 Years Ago, Voyager 2 Captures Images of NeptuneNASA: 25 Years Ago, Voyager 2 Captures Images of NeptunePA Images

The researchers found the hot hydrocarbon mixture – discussed as the miscibility of the elements in their interiors – produced clusters of diamonds as opposed to fluid. This means that inside these planets, diamonds may rain down.

Lead author Dr Dominik Kraus, from Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf, said: ‘In the case of the ice giants we now know that the carbon almost exclusively forms diamonds when it separates and does not take on a fluid transitional form.’

Uranus NASAUranus NASANASA/Space Telescope Science Institute

The laboratory news release explained:  

In the case of planets like Neptune and Uranus this means that the formation of diamonds in their interior can trigger an additional energy source. The diamonds are heavier than the matter surrounding them and slowly sink to the core of the planet in a kind of diamond rain. In the process, they rub against their surroundings and generate heat – an important factor for planet models.


Kraus added that using these large, high-energy lasers has provided a new way to ‘study the evolutionary history of planets and planetary systems, as well as supporting experiments towards potential future forms of energy from fusion’.

From here, the team hopes to not only recreate the extreme conditions found deeper within the icy giants, but also those on other planets in our Solar System.

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Cameron Frew

After graduating from Glasgow Caledonian University with an NCTJ and BCTJ-accredited Multimedia Journalism degree, Cameron ventured into the world of print journalism at The National, while also working as a freelance film journalist on the side, becoming an accredited Rotten Tomatoes critic in the process. He's now left his Scottish homelands and took up residence at UNILAD as a journalist.

Topics: Science, Astronomy, Diamonds, Neptune, Now, Solar System, Space, Technology, Uranus


SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and 2 others
  1. SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

    A new way to study how elements mix deep inside giant planets

  2. Nature Communications

    Demonstration of X-ray Thomson scattering as diagnostics for miscibility in warm dense matter

  3. Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden Rossendorf

    X-ray scattering enables closer scrutiny of the interior of planets and stars