Thursday, 18 October 2012

The Diamond Planet

Hannah Bruce Macdonald

While it may sound like it’s drawn from science-fiction, scientists have shown that the imaginatively named planet, 55 Cancri e, may consist of up to a third diamond. Initially, when first discovered in 2004, it was considered to be Earth-like and it was believed that the surface of 55 Cancri e was covered with supercritical fluids (a gas with fluid properties at high-pressure) flowing from its rocks. However, further calculations on its density have allowed scientists at Yale University to establish that the planet is mainly carbon-based. This carbon is present in both diamond and graphite forms, with the other constituents of this rocky planet including silicates, silicon carbides and iron.

This extra-solar planet, orbiting the sun-like star 55 Cancri A, has a diameter around twice that of the Earth and its mass is 7.8 times larger. A third of this planet is made of diamond, which is equal to 2.5 times the mass of our Earth. Our relatively carbon redundant Earth only mines 26,000 kg annually! 

While it sounds like an ideal source of wedding ring stones, and mining may seem like a promising venture, this ‘Super-Earth’ is 40 light years away; a distance of 8,968,390,660,000 marathons, within the constellation of Cancer. Its ‘year’ lasts only 18 hours and it is so close to its star, that it can reach 2,1000 Celsius! To add to the impossible heat there is predicted to be little water and that any life would be unsustainable in this environment. So if you’re after your own Star of Africa, you will probably have more luck stealing the crown jewels than reaching this diamond in the sky.

Check out this video: