Uranus could be the richest planet in the Solar System – at least, as far as diamonds are concerned.
Scientists have long believed that the icy giant planet could host rain showers of diamonds due to the enormous pressure of its atmosphere. However, it has been improbable to recreate Uranus’ harsh environment, so there has been no confirmation, Tech Times reports.
Now, a team of researchers at Stanford University’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory has mimicked the planet’s intense atmospheric conditions, and successfully detected a rainfall of tiny diamonds.
Dominik Kraus of the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf, lead author on the study, said,
Previously, researchers could only assume that the diamonds had formed. When I saw the results of this latest experiment, it was one of the best moments of my scientific career.
In order to check the theory, the researchers used polystyrene and the high-powered optical lasers in the laboratory. The polystyrene was picked for its hydrogen and carbon compound mix that closely resembles Uranus’ own makeup.
The team then turned to the most powerful x-ray on Earth, the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS), to recreate the high-intensity temperature and pressure the distant planet has. The LCLS churned out two shock waves that allowed the polystyrene’s composition to change.
Siegfried Glenzer, a professor of photon science at SLAC and co-author on the study, said, “You need these intense, fast pulses of X-rays to unambiguously see the structure of these diamonds, because they are only formed in the laboratory for such a very short time.”
When the pressure reaches peak intensity as the two shock waves overlap, the polystyrene’s structure is altered to form miniscule diamonds in femtoseconds, or one quadrillionth of a second.
Considering the size of Uranus, the researchers conclude that the diamonds raining there are likely to be massive in size, reaching a few million carats each. However, they’re most probably full of impurities and are not cut or polished.