There’s Something Of Incredible Value Forming Inside Neptune And Uranus
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.
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.’
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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CreditsSLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and 2 others
SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory
Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden Rossendorf