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  • Rishika Didwania

Raining Diamonds?

For nearly 40 years astronomers and physicists have suspected that far away on the eighth planet of the solar system, a spectacular phenomenon takes place. Believe it or not but in the dark, cold, ice giant Neptune it actually rains diamonds!

Deep beneath the blue cloud tops of Neptune, lies a layer 17,500 km thick, consisting of water, ammonia, and methane. Research suggests that due to gravity these compounds are subjected to extremely high densities and pressures which are a million times that of Earth’s atmosphere. The innermost regions of the mantle of Neptune are likely to have temperatures of around 6,727 degrees Celsius.

So what exactly happens to water, ammonia, and methane at these extreme temperatures and pressures?

Marvin Ross (of LLNL) first introduced the diamond-rain idea in an article in 1981. He suggested that the atoms of hydrocarbons, like methane, separate into hydrogen and carbon atoms when subjected to the high pressures and temperatures of Neptune. Clusters of isolated carbon atoms would then begin to form crystalline diamond structures and fall toward the planet’s core. It would fall in the form of ‘rain’, collecting new layers as it falls because while falling it falls over touching other isolated carbon atoms or diamonds.

As a result, a thick layer of carbon hypothetically surrounds the rocky core of Neptune. This carbon layer may consist of chunks of solid diamond or may even transform into a mixture of solid and liquid carbon. If this does take place, the solid carbon having a lower density than the liquid would result in large 'diamond bergs' floating on top of an ocean of liquid carbon.

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