Home Science Why Do Neptune and Uranus Rain Diamonds?

Why Do Neptune and Uranus Rain Diamonds?

It’s difficult to conduct research on the Solar System’s outer planets. Since Voyager 2 has been around, it is the only spacecraft that has been able to fly by and find out some of its secrets so far. However, astronomers and physicists have long assumed (about 40 years) that diamonds fall down from the depths of Neptune and Uranus.

Here’s what they thought when they started out.

According to their hypothesis, intense heat and pressure hundreds of kilometers below the surface of these gigantic ice giants would rip hydrocarbon molecules apart. Finally, carbon will be compressed into diamonds, enabling even more penetration into the planet’s core. This is the so-called “Diamond Rain” theory.

Credit: Greg Stewart/Stanford Linear Accelerator Center National Accelerator Laboratory

Earlier, researchers had employed an X-ray laser from SLAC’s Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) to achieve their results. So they could gain an accurate measurement of the production of “warm dense matter,” a mix of high-pressure and high-temperature. As far as scientists were concerned, Neptune and Uranus had this in their core. They had utilized a method called “X-ray diffraction”. This method takes a series of pictures of how materials react to laser-created shock waves that resemble the harsh conditions that might be found on other planets. This approach was ideal for analyzing crystal samples, but it was inapplicable to non-crystal materials with more erratic structures.

Credit : NASA

An entirely new method, called “X-ray Thomson scattering,” was used in the most recent research, and it was published in Nature in May of 2020.  The researchers were able to perfectly recreate the diffraction findings in their experiments. Evaluation of the interactions between non-crystal materials might be done in parallel with this.

With the use of the scattering method, it is possible to correctly reproduce hydrocarbon diffraction patterns. It was like this inside Neptune and Uranus. They had split into carbon and hydrogen-like they do inside them. Carbon crystallized as a direct result of the intense pressure and heat in the immediate surroundings. The most likely outcome would be diamonds showering down from a depth of 6,200 miles under the planet’s surface.

Using the diagram below, you can see how this happens:

Credit: Jason McAlexander

Effective laboratory experiments conducted with the new technique will be useful in the future for studying the environments of other worlds.

Scientist Dominik Kraus lead this new research. According to him, this method will enable scientists to quantify intriguing events that are otherwise impossible to replicate.  Among other things, we’ll be able to see how hydrogen and helium, two elements abundant in gas giants such as Jupiter and Saturn, combine and split under these harsh circumstances.

Credit : HZDR/Sahneweiß

Future spacecraft missions to Neptune and Uranus might reveal new insights into the planets’ internal processes that have yet to be discovered in the lab. In addition, it will provide light on the formation of planets like those in our solar system and others yet to be discovered. An investigation into such a project is now underway at NASA. By 2030, the planets in our solar system will be in a favorable configuration that will make it possible for a spaceship to launch and reach Uranus or Neptune by 2040.

This kind of celestial conjunction won’t happen again for another two centuries. It’s never too early to start dreaming about visiting the ice giants and learning about the fascinating diamond planets of the Solar System….

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