Diamonds are a Universe’s Best Friend

Recent research highlighted in Nature Physics illustrates what we miserly folk have known for a long time, diamonds are not as rare as DeBeers would have us believe.  Following the completion of the first studies which successfully measured the melting point of diamonds (occurring under the pressure of 40 million atmospheres), physicists now have additional evidence which supports the presence of vast quantities of liquid and solid diamonds amidst near stellar bodies.  Given the chemical composition of Neptune and Uranus, it is possible that during the formation of these planets, the intense pressure and subsequent heat was sufficient to fuse hydrogen to helium and helium to carbon.  This reaction may have taken place in such large amounts that these planetary surfaces would be covered in liquid diamond oceans.  Another interesting result of this diamond melting experiment is that it clearly showed that solid diamonds float on liquid diamonds, a rare quality in the universe.  Not only does this provide a deeper sense of irony for rappers choosing to refer to their diamonds as ice, but also helps explain how carbon reacts in the presence of extremely high pressures.  If this tendency continues to hold up to scrutiny, we may very well find diamonds to be a not so uncommon form of carbon in the universe.  You know what that means?  Iced out  grills for everyone!

In unrelated but equally blingy research, astrophysicists from the University of Southampton in the UK and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center recently discovered the answer to an old cosmological riddle.  Neutron stars are extremely compact remnants of collapsed stars.

A neutron star

They are called neutron stars because they are so dense that they fuse most of their constituent electrons and protons into neutrons during formation.  These celestial bodies are  small, most measuring less than ten miles in diameter, but are between 1.5 and 2 solar masses.  This translates to one really freakin dense object.  To borrow an awesome analogy, the force of gravity from a neutron star is so strong that an object dropped from one meter above the star’s surface would take just one millionth of a second to impact the crust, and would collide at 4.5 million miles an hour.  These stars are so dense, that they warp spacetime around them sufficient enough to allow observers to see portions of the rear of the star.  Badass, I know.

Ok, back to the bling.  Astrophysicists have until recently been puzzled by one neutron star in particular, the remenant of a Cassiopeia A supernova.  Typical neutron stars emit a ton of x-ray radiation from their cores, but this one pulsates x-rays in an entirely abnormal pattern.  The recent discovery was that this behavior was due to the presence of an atmosphere surrounding the star.  If you’re response to this is, WTF? a gaseous atmosphere around a neutron star?, you’re not the only one.  As it happens, the gas itself is a 4 inch thick layer of carbon as dense as diamonds.  The combination of tidal forces and unbelievable heat (~ 3.6 million degrees F), keeps the carbon in its gaseous state which provides the star with a prismatic sort of shroud that is responsible for the x-ray pulsing.  While the research is still ongoing and is far from cosmological gospel, rappers world round can find inspiration in the concept of an existence under clouds of diamonds.


~ by Wil Finley on January 15, 2010.

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