Diamonds have long been known to be made by the chemical changes that happen in carbon because of the high pressure and temperature. Little did we know that diamonds are also formed in form of rains in other planets and that using same conditions diamonds can be formed in laboratories.
Diamond rain which is a common phenomenon known to be present deep under the icy planets like Uranus and Neptune, was achieved by some scientists recently. Researchers from Germany have managed to mimic the conditions that take place on these planets in a laboratory. They used the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory’s X-ray free-electron laser to achieve the environmental conditions. They created shock waves in plastic with an intense optical laser.
The laser created a temperature that expanded polystyrene – a substitute for hydrocarbons found within Uranus and Neptune. The expansion generated shock waves. Two shock waves were produced, the second one being faster than the first. When the two shock waves overlapped, temperatures and pressures similar to that found in the interiors of these planets, 5,000 K and 150 GPa respectively, were produced.
These conditions broke the bond between carbon and hydrogen in the polystyrene. The carbon atoms then joining together formed the diamonds. Though they formed very small and for a very short time, the team could see them form with the help of very short pulses of X-ray.
Explaining the fact how diamonds rain down in the interiors of Neptune and Uranus and why these icy planets are actually hot, Dominik Kraus, scientist at Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendrof said, “These diamonds will sink down because they are heavier than the surrounding medium and when they sink down there will be friction with the surrounding medium, and at some point they will be stopped when they reach the core – and all this generates heat”
Since the diamond formed through this process are very tiny, they are called nanodiamonds. These nanodiamonds can be used for commercial purposes, ranging from medicine, scientific equipment and electronics. They may also help researchers get close to cracking the nuclear fusion.