Deep inside Neptune and Uranus, diamonds may be on the way. Now, scientists have generated new experimental evidence that this is possible.
The hypothesis is that the high temperatures and pressures thousands of kilometers below the surface of these ice giants break down the hydrocarbons, and the carbon is compressed into diamonds and sinks deep into the planet’s nucleus.
This new experiment used the linear accelerator coherent light source (LCLS) X-ray laser of the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory to perform the most accurate measurement of how the “diamond rain” process occurred, and found that carbon was directly converted into crystalline diamond.
Mike Dunn, the head of LCLS and a plasma physicist who is not listed as an author, explained: “This study provides a data that is difficult to model with a computer: the̵
“Here, they saw how the two elements separated, such as breaking mayonnaise into oil and vinegar.”
Neptune and Uranus are the most incomprehensible planets in the solar system. They are too far away-only one space probe Voyager 2 is even close to them, and it is only used for flying, not for special long-term missions.
However, ice giants are extremely common in the wider Milky Way-according to NASA data, Neptune-like exoplanets are 10 times more popular than Jupiter-like exoplanets.
Therefore, understanding the ice giants in our solar system is essential for understanding the planets in the entire galaxy. In order to understand them better, we need to know what will happen under their tranquil blue exterior.
We know that the atmosphere of Neptune and Uranus is mainly composed of hydrogen and helium and a small amount of methane. Beneath these atmospheres, super-heated, super-dense fluids such as water, methane, and ammonia, which are “icy” substances, wrap around the planet’s core.
Calculations and experiments decades ago showed that under sufficient pressure and temperature, methane can decompose into diamonds-this indicates that diamonds can form in this hot, dense material.
The SLAC experiment previously led by physicist Dominik Kraus in Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf, Germany, was demonstrated using X-ray diffraction. Now, Claus and his team will take the research further.
When talking about their latest results, Claus said: “We now have a very promising new method based on X-ray scattering.” “Our experiments provide important model parameters, and before this, we only had Great uncertainty. As we discover more exoplanets, this will become more and more important.”
Copying the inside of giant planets on Earth is challenging. You need some very dense equipment-this is LCLS. You need a material that can replicate the material inside a giant planet. To this end, the research team used hydrocarbon polystyrene (C8H8) Instead of methane (CH4).
The first step is to heat and pressurize the material to replicate the conditions inside Neptune at a depth of approximately 10,000 kilometers (6,214 miles): optical laser pulses generate shock waves in polystyrene, which heats the material to approximately 5,000 Kelvin (4,727 degrees) Celsius or 8540 degrees Fahrenheit). It also creates tremendous pressure.
Klaus said: “We produce about 1.5 million gold bars, which is equivalent to the pressure exerted by the weight of about 250 African elephants on the thumbnail surface.”
In previous experiments, X-ray diffraction was used to detect materials. This works well for materials with a crystalline structure, but it is less effective for non-crystalline molecules, so the picture is incomplete. In the new experiment, the research team used another method to measure how X-rays scatter from electrons in polystyrene.
This not only allowed them to observe the conversion of carbon to diamond, but also the reaction of the remaining samples-it decomposed into hydrogen. And there is almost no carbon left.
Claus said: “As far as the ice giant is concerned, we now know that carbon is almost completely diamond when separated, rather than in a fluid transition form.”
This is important, because Neptune is indeed a bit weird. Its interior is hotter than expected. In fact, the energy it emits is 2.6 times the energy it absorbs from the sun.
If diamonds (which have a higher density than the surrounding matter) are raining into the planet, they may release gravitational energy, which is converted into heat generated by the friction between the diamond and the surrounding matter.
The experiment shows that we don’t have to find alternative explanations…not yet. It also shows a method that can be used to “probe” the interior of other planets in the solar system.
Klaus said: “This technique will allow us to measure interesting processes that are difficult to reproduce.”
“For example, we will be able to see how the elements of hydrogen and helium found inside natural gas giants such as Jupiter and Saturn are mixed and separated under these extreme conditions. This is a new method to study the history of planets and the evolution of planets .Systems and support experiments for potential future fusion energy forms.”
The study has been published on Natural communication.