ice giants such as Neptune, shown here where carbon turns into a diamond shower

Credit: Greg Stewart / SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Well as space exploration has gotten its second wind of late, maybe it’s not too soon to think about interesting places to visit.  If you’re into flash and bling scientists have conjectured about diamond rain falling in our solar system. Neptune and Uranus are long suspected to be diamond rain makers, with extremely high pressures that would squeeze the carbon atoms in the atmosphere.  Also, both these gas giants have atmospheres comprised of 15% methane, and the temperature does not get to over 3,820 Kelvin (6,416°F), the melting point of diamonds. This means that the precious stones that fall are most likely encrusted all over the planets surface meaning pun intended that, Uranus is full of diamonds just waiting to be picked up!

We have yet to fully explore the gas giants of our solar system, but researchers at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR), in cooperation with colleagues from the United States and Germany have recreated conditions found on Neptune and Uranus at Stanford’s SLAC Laboratory and watched as tiny diamonds formed.  To create the ‘diamond rain’, the team of researchers used a sheet of a plastic called polystyrene which contains similar quantities of hydrogen and carbon molecules as methane and they bombarded it with high-powered optical laser beams to recreate the high pressure of the gas giant planets.  “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,” said Siegfried Glenzer, professor of photon science at Stanford University.

The team writing in the journal Nature Astronomy, reportedly used the SLAC’s Matter in Extreme Conditions (MEC) instrument, which was recently upgraded with the specific purpose of helping to recreate the extremely high-pressure conditions of distant planets for study.  This particular research, of course, helps the study of our solar system, but in the future, this technique could be used to manufacture nanodiamonds that could be used for electronics, to make the tips of precision medical instruments and other commercial purposes.