Astronomers led by Indian American Nikku Madhusudhan have discovered a giant planet with an atmosphere and core dominated by carbon, raising the prospect that diamond-studded stars may exist.
Madhusudan, a Banaras Hindu University (BHU) alumnus now at Princeton University, New Jersey, and his colleagues have observed that an extremely hot planet discovered last year has more carbon than oxygen - a feature never observed on a planet until now.
The planet, called WASP-12b, orbits a star about 1,200 light-years from earth, and appears to have temperatures of nearly 2300°C - hot enough to melt stainless steel, the scientists said in the journal Nature.
A computational technique developed two years ago by Madhusudan while he was at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was used to analyse the atmosphere of the planet.
Like Jupiter, WASP-12b is made largely of gas, only its core contains carbon-based minerals such as diamonds and graphite, said Madhusudhan, now a postdoctoral scientist in the department of astrophysical sciences at Princeton.
"A carbon-rich planet has dramatic implications for its interior, its atmosphere, and may compel us to rethink our long-ingrained ideas of planetary formation," he said.