It’s not Purple Rain, it’s not Chocolate Rain; it’s diamond rain. Maybe Prince could collaborate with Tay Zonday to come up with a new song which reflects the theoretical phenomenon that has now been found on Jupiter and Saturn. It turns out rain is a girl’s best friend because it could be raining diamonds on Jupiter and Saturn. For some reason as yet unknown, researchers have gone out of their way to point out that the public should not expect enormous “berg” sized diamonds to rain down on these planets, but rather, says researcher Mona Delitski, “We’re thinking they’re more like something you can hold in your hand.” Uh, ok, that seems quite big enough! Rihanna should be quite delighted at the news.
The American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences 45th annual meeting was the venue for the presentation of the new research. Delitsky clarified that the diamonds raining on Jupiter and Saturn are not, in fact, going to be something like a “Titanic-sized diamondberg,” but much smaller. Still, it’s pretty darn cool to think about diamonds raining down from the sky on an alien planet, isn’t it? What’s more, say scientists, you’d have your choice of liquid diamonds which could actually form oceans, or hardened diamonds which exist in the planets’ outer, and much cooler, shells.
University of Wisconsin-Madison scientist Kevin Baines explains where the diamonds reside: “At the boundaries — locations of sharp increases in density — on Jupiter and Saturn, there may be diamond rain or diamond oceans sitting as a layer. Previously, only Uranus and Neptune were thought to have conditions in their interiors that would allow the formation of diamond at their cores,” he says.
The diamonds are formed when methane gas gets struck by lightning, turning the gas into the building blocks of diamonds, soot, which then transforms into graphite. After that, the process of diamond formation involves very high temperatures ranging up to 7,000 degrees Celsius. The solid diamonds would hang out in the outer regions of the planet, giving rise to speculation about one day being able to harvest them. In fact this was proposed by the study authors as a possibility beginning around the year 2469, when robots could potentially venture to these planets and gather the blingity bling. But don’t get too excited, ladies. Contrary to having visions of big honking rings and other beautiful baubles, the scientists are only concerned with altruism. Sigh, they want to use the diamonds to create ships that could then be sent into the planets’ interiors to gather clean fusion fuel, so forget about showing up your neighbors with the biggest engagement ring on the block.
The research is not presented without controversy. As is the case with most new scientific discoveries, there are conflicting theories about the atmospheres on Jupiter and Saturn, and whether or not these planets could produce diamonds inside or outside their cores. California Institute of Technology scientist David Stevenson says he doesn’t think there are diamonds on either of these planets at all. He says the issue of thermodynamics was missed by the researchers, “thermodynamics favours mixtures”, he says. “It’s the same thermodynamics that explains why a small amount of sugar or salt will dissolve in a large amount of water, especially at high temperature. Even if you made carbon dust, it would just dissolve as it went down into the interior very very quickly.” Thus, no diamonds.
Fritz Haber Institute physicist Luca Ghiringhelli agrees with this assessment. “It is very optimistic to drive conclusions on the existence of diamonds on Saturn from the scarce data we have, and without a convincing model,” he says.
Is it raining diamonds on Jupiter and Saturn? Expert opinion is mixed. But if the research recently presented is correct, rain may be a girl’s best friend.
By: Rebecca Savastio