A group of scientists carried out an experiment to recreate what they believe happens in Uranus and Neptune: a diamond rain. This is the first time in history experts are able to create in a laboratory an event of this kind and magnitude.
According to a scientific theory published in the journal Nature Astronomy, the levels of pressure and temperature in Uranus and Neptune are so high, it consistently “rains” pieces of diamonds when the particles of carbon are squeezed, then they possibly clump in a glittering mass around the core.
The team formed by US, UK, and German scientists proved that the depth of these icy giants is perfect for the formation of diamonds. They did it using the Linac Coherent Light Source at Stanford, with one of the brightest sources of X-rays on the planet.
The sizes of the last two planets in our Solar System, Uranus, and Neptune are considered to be about 15 and 17 times bigger than the Earth’s. Both of their atmospheres are rich in gases like hydrogen and helium, and they’re all covered by vast oceans of water, ammonia, and substances known as hydrocarbons – molecules, such as methane, that are composed of hydrogen and carbon.
Scientists managed mimic conditions to create what happens deep inside Uranus and Neptune
This is not the first time scientists try to recreate the rain. Many techniques, including lasers, were used to explore and solve the mysterious theory, but, the authors said, those scientists didn’t use the necessary amount of pressure to recreate the condition of both Uranus and Neptune.
According to the study, to produce the rain, scientists used a sheet of polystyrene with an enormous amount of hard carbon. Then, they pointed an incredibly hot laser and shot to the surface of the sheet. They shocked them along to create extreme sound waves and recreate the high pressure of the two icy giants.
Two waves were designed to shock between them, the second faster than the first. Thus, creating temperatures and pressures of about 5,000 K and 150 GPa respectively – conditions similar of those found about 10,000 km into the interior of the planets. This way, scientists converted the carbon into impressive nano-diamonds. However, according to scientists, the diamonds formed in the planets’ core would be much larger, maybe millions of karats in weight.
“The experimental time is very short,” said Dominik Kraus, first author of the research from the German research laboratory Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf. “That we saw this very clear signature of diamonds was actually very, very surprising.”
This sheds new lights to discover what could really happen at Neptune and Uranus. Most of the planets’ nature is still unknown, but scientists are now one step closer to realize how their structures work. Scientists are also hoping this can help solve the longstanding conundrum of why these ice giants are hotter than expected.
“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,” said Kraus.