Scientists mimic Uranus’ harsh conditions to produce diamond rain

26 Aug 2017


Scientists have long theorised that the icy giant planet Uranus could have diamond rain showers due to the immense pressure in its atmosphere but no confirmation of the idea had been possible due to inability to mimic the harsh conditions of the planet.

But a team of researchers at Stanford University's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory has recreated the atmospheric conditions on the planet and successfully observed the formation of tiny diamonds.

"Previously, researchers could only assume that the diamonds had formed. When I saw the results of this latest experiment, it was one of the best moments of my scientific career," lead author Dominik Kraus from the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf said.

A number of experiments had been undertaken to confirm the theory; however, earlier observations failed to achieve success as researchers could not observe the results in real-time, a necessary part of the monitoring process.

The team used polystyrene and high-powered optical lasers in order to test the theory.

The polystyrene was chosen as an integral part of the experiment as its hydrogen and carbon compound mix is similar to the chemical composition of the planet.

To simulate the intense temperature and pressure on Uranus, the team looked at the most powerful C-ray laser in the world: the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) to produce shock waves.

The waves were then driven through a block of polystyrene a plastic composed of hydrogen and carbon, just like the oceans on Uranus.

''The first smaller, slower wave is overtaken by another stronger second wave,'' Kraus explained in a news release.

The plastic was squeezed by the combination of the two waves to 150 gigapascals of pressure - more than exists at the bottom of earth's mantle - and heated it to over 8,500 degrees, at which moment, the diamonds began to form.

The process lasted for only a fraction of a second and the diamonds produced were not more than a nanometer in length.

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