A Huge Diamond in the Sky


 Star Map Courtesy of Dr. Nikku Madhusudhan


A Huge Diamond in the Sky

Scientists have discovered what they think is a gigantic planet with diamonds three times the mass of the Earth. And we thought that Elizabeth Taylor had lots of diamonds!


What astronomers found

The diamond planet is called 55 Cancri e. It is close to Earth in astronomical terms, just a “short” forty light years away in the constellation of Cancer. Its star can be seen with the naked eye - but of course using binoculars or a telescope gives a better view!


Scientists estimate that the diamond planet has the following characteristics:


  • Size: twice as big as the Earth
  • Mass: eight times as massive as the Earth
  • Temperature: 2150 degrees Celsius (3900 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Mass of diamonds making up the planet: at least three times that of the mass of the Earth
  • Speed: hyper speed, taking only 18 Earth hours to orbit its star
  • Planet Composition: the surface consists mostly of graphite (the softest form of carbon) surrounding a thick layer of diamond (the hardest form of carbon) which in turn surrounds a layer of silicon-based materials and a molten iron core.


 Why the discovery of the diamond planet is important

"It's the first time we know of such an exotic planet that we think was born mostly of carbon—which really makes this a fundamental game-changer in our understanding of what's possible in planetary chemistry." (Nikku Madhusudhan, study leader and postdoctoral researcher at Yale University)

55 Cancri e’s chemistry is fundamentally different from Earth’s and this changes scientists’ understanding of how planets are created and of what type of biology could exist on other planets. The discovery also has implications on scientists’ understanding of geochemistry and geophysical processes, including such issues as volcanism, seismic activity and mountain formation. The discovery is exciting because it alters thinking in several scientific fields.


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