Scientists simulate Neptune’s mythical diamond rain

Scientists speculate the diamonds could weigh hundreds or thousands of kilograms.
Image credit: Greg Stewart/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory
Date:22 August 2017 Tags:, , ,

Researchers recreated the conditions inside ice giants like Neptune and Uranus, proving that long-hypothesised diamond rain is possible.

By Avery Thompson

Deep inside giant icy planets like Uranus and Neptune, the freezing temperatures and extreme pressures combine to form some strange weather patterns. For instance, a few thousand miles below the surface of these planets, floating carbon and hydrogen atoms squeeze together until they solidify. Then, the solid carbon and hydrogen crystals fall deep into the interior of the planets.

Or to put it another way, these planets have such intense pressures that they actually experience diamond rain. At least theoretically—nobody has ever been inside the planets to check. But a group of scientists has done the next best thing. By recreating the extreme conditions in a lab and producing some diamond rain of their own.

Making diamond rain

To form their laboratory diamonds, the researchers used a powerful laser to create two shock waves in plastic. The plastic is designed to simulate some of the methane compounds found in the deeper layers of ice giants. When the plastic is hit with the laser, the shock waves overlap to create a region of extremely high pressure. This forms the diamonds.

“Previously, researchers could only assume that the diamonds had formed,” said lead author Dominik Kraus. “When I saw the results of this latest experiment, it was one of the best moments of my scientific career.”

The diamonds created in this experiment are tiny—only a few atoms wide—but they successfully prove that diamond formation is possible within planets like Neptune. Scientists speculate that the diamonds formed inside the ice giants could be much larger, possibly hundreds or thousands of pounds.

Never to be seen

Unfortunately, this is probably as close as we’ll ever get to real diamond rain. See, the pressures inside the planets themselves are too extreme to send a spacecraft into. But while we’ll never get to see diamond rain with our own eyes, we can content ourselves with the knowledge that giant diamonds are raining down on a planet not too far from our own.

Says study author Siegfried Glenzer, “Our study and others provide evidence that matter clumping in these types of high-pressure conditions is a force to be reckoned with.”

Source: Nature Astronomy

From: PM USA