Billions of planets throughout the universe have sparkling diamond ‘rain’ forming in their atmospheres, researchers have said.
The researchers used plastic to recreate precipitation believed to form deep inside ice giant planets Uranus and Neptune.
Previously, scientists had theorised that solid diamonds could form from hydrogen and carbon under high pressure on ice giant planets, far below their surface.
But new research shows it’s more likely that diamonds will literally ‘rain’ down inside the ice giants – and such planets are probably the most common form of planet outside the solar system, the researchers say.
Dominic Kraus of Germany’s HZDR research lab and his team added oxygen to the reaction and found that “diamond rain” formed more easily.
Researchers previously predicted that gems worth billions of dollars could be harvested from planets in our solar system, in an essay entitled, The Seas of Saturn.
The researchers suggested that ships made of diamonds could harvest tonnes of the gem, but warned that the technology to do so may not be available until the year 2469.
Kraus said that diamonds on Neptune and Uranus could form a layer hundreds of miles thick.
The researcher used PET plastic to form the diamonds, used in plastic bottles, to form ‘nanodiamonds’.
A powerful laser flashes hit a film-like material sample, heat it up to 6,000C for the blink of an eye and generate a shock wave that compresses the material for a few nanoseconds to a million times the atmospheric pressure.
“Up to now, we used hydrocarbon films for these kinds of experiments,” explains Dominik Kraus, physicist at HZDR and professor at the University of Rostock. “And we discovered that this extreme pressure produced tiny diamonds, known as nanodiamonds.”
“PET has a good balance between carbon, hydrogen and oxygen to simulate the activity in ice planets.”
“The effect of the oxygen was to accelerate the splitting of the carbon and hydrogen and thus encourage the formation of nanodiamonds. It meant the carbon atoms could combine more easily and form diamonds.”
The new experiment could also have a real-world use: the tailored production of nanometer-sized diamonds, which are already included in abrasives and polishing agents.
In the future, they are supposed to be used as highly-sensitive quantum sensors, medical contrast agents and efficient reaction accelerators, for splitting CO2 for example.
“So far, diamonds of this kind have mainly been produced by detonating explosives,” Kraus explains. “With the help of laser flashes, they could be manufactured much more cleanly in the future.”
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