As the number of known exoplanets beyond our solar system grows, so does our knowledge of what these alien worlds look like. And although the focus is predominantly placed on worlds that resemble Earth, some planet discoveries seem to defy all logic. Worlds like TrES-2b, which is known for being so dark it reflects less than one percent of the light that falls on it.
Or planets like GJ 504 b, which according to infrared scans is aglow with a deep, cherry-blossom pink hue.
And now, in a study published in The Planetary Science Journal, a team of US astronomers has determined some planets could be made out of diamonds.
These so-called carbide planets are abundant in carbon – the fourth most common element in the Universe.
Lead author Harrison Allen-Sutter of Arizona State University (ASU) said: “These exoplanets are unlike anything in our solar system.”
When planets and stars are born, they do so from clouds of gas drifting through space.
Stars like our Sun, with a low carbon to oxygen ratio, are bound to spawn worlds like Earth.
But exoplanets forming around stars with a much higher carbon to oxygen ratio are expected to be abundant with carbon.
Researchers at ASU believe adding a dash of water into the mix can convert the carbon and silica into a diamond-rich composition.
Using so-called diamond anvil cells, they compressed silicon carbide in water between diamonds at high pressure.
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The experiment confirmed the researchers’ predictions, as the silicon carbide reacted with the water to transform into diamond and silica.
The scientists wrote in their study: “Combined with the existing experiments at low pressures, our new experiments at high pressures show that water can convert silicon carbide to silica and diamond.
“With our finding that carbide planets will readily convert to silicate planets in the presence of water, the number of carbide planets in existence may be even lower than current predictions.
“Furthermore, a carbide planet could convert to a type of planet that, to our knowledge, has never been considered before: a planet rich in both diamond and silicates.”
Mr Allen-Sutter, an ASU graduate student, said: “Regardless of habitability, this is one additional step in helping us understand and characterize our ever-increasing and improving observations of exoplanets.
“The more we learn, the better we’ll be able to interpret new data from upcoming future missions like the James Webb Space Telescope and the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope to understand the worlds beyond on our own solar system.”
To date, more than 4,200 planets have been discovered and more than 5,400 candidates are waiting to be explored.
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Exoplanet, Solar System, Planetary science, Carbon, Astronomy, Earth
World news – US – Space revelation: Alien planets could be made of diamonds ‘unlike anything in our system’