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Current Affairs

Exoplanets could be made of diamonds

Date: 13 September 2020 Tags: Space

Issue

Astronomers have determined that some carbon-rich exoplanets, given the right circumstances, could be made of diamonds and silica.

 

Background

As missions like NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, TESS, and Kepler continue to provide insights into the properties of exoplanets (planets around other stars), scientists are increasingly able to piece together what these planets look like.

 

Details

  • When stars and planets are formed, they do so from the same cloud of gas, so their bulk compositions are similar.

  • A star with a lower carbon to oxygen ratio will have planets like Earth, comprised of silicates and oxides with a very small diamond content (Earth's diamond content is about 0.001%).

  • But exoplanets around stars with a higher carbon to oxygen ratio than our sun are more likely to be carbon-rich.

  • Researchers hypothesized that these carbon-rich exoplanets could convert to diamond and silicate, if water were present, creating a diamond-rich composition.

  • To test this hypothesis, the research team needed to mimic the interior of carbide exoplanets using high heat and high pressure. To do so, they used high pressure diamond-anvil cells.

  • As they predicted, with high heat and pressure, the silicon carbide reacted with water and turned into diamonds and silica.

  • For carbon-rich planets that are the focus of this study, however, they likely do not have the properties needed for life.

  • The results of this study show that carbon-rich planets are too hard to be geologically active and this lack of geologic activity may make atmospheric composition uninhabitable.

  • Atmospheres are critical for life as it provides us with air to breathe, protection from the harsh environment of space, and even pressure to allow for liquid water.