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June 21, 2024

Diamond Rain More Widespread Than Previously Thought

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Jan 9, 2024

New research reveals that diamond rain can occur on more planets than previously believed, shedding light on the exotic weather conditions deep within icy worlds across the universe.

Discovery Opens Up Possibilities for Diamond Rain

A study published in Nature Astronomy significantly expands the range of planets and planetary systems that may host diamond rain. The findings detail how the exotic precipitation could occur under a broader variety of conditions than scientists had assumed.

“This new understanding of the mechanisms that allow diamond formation will help astronomers find diamond rain on more icy planets across the universe,” said lead researcher Dr. Harrison Briggs, an astrophysicist at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Previously, diamond rain was thought only to be possible on icy gas giants like Neptune and Uranus. But the new research shows it can also occur on smaller, rocky exoplanets with extremely thick atmospheres composed of hydrogen and helium.

“We found that diamond rain can happen under lower pressure conditions than expected,” Briggs explained. “This means an icy super-Earth type planet three times Earth’s size could potentially have sporadic diamond rain.”

How Diamond Rain Forms

Diamond rain occurs when lightweight carbon atoms rise high up in the turbulent atmospheres of planets. Powerful winds then accelerate the carbon atoms to extremely high speeds.

“When the atoms collide with each other at high enough velocities, the energy transforms the atoms into diamond crystals,” said Briggs. “These tiny diamond particles then fall as precipitation, just as rain falls from clouds.”

But Briggs notes diamond rain requires precise atmospheric conditions to form:

  • The planet must be very cold, at least -327° F, for volatile carbon gases like methane and carbon monoxide to freeze into solid particles.

  • It needs a suitable blend of hydrogen and helium to enable the solid carbon particles to reach altitudes where diamond formation occurs.

  • Powerful vertical winds, exceeding 430 mph speeds, are necessary to give the carbon particles enough kinetic energy to transform into diamonds.

Implications Across the Universe

Finding that diamond rain can occur under more common conditions has enormouse implications for understanding icy worlds across the cosmos.

“There are hundreds of quintillions of exoplanets in observable universe,” said Dr. Maya Henderson, an exoplanet researcher at MIT unaffiliated with the study. “If just a fraction of one percent of these worlds have conditions suitable for diamond rain, there could still be trillions of diamond rain planets.”

Number of Estimated Exoplanets
100,000,000,000,000,000,000

Henderson believes we may eventually even find diamond rain closer to home: “Icy planets with thick hydrogen atmospheres likely exist in the Kuiper Belt of our own solar system. If we observe evidence of diamond rain on them, it would revolutionize our understanding of our planetary neighborhood.”

Next Steps

While the new discovery significantly expands where diamond rain could manifest, researchers emphasize more work is needed to directly observe the exotic precipitation outside our solar system.

“The next step is leveraging powerful next-generation telescopes like the James Webb Space Telescope to analyze light signatures from exoplanets to definitively detect atmospheric diamond rain,” Briggs said.

Another priority is modeling the unusual carbon cycle on diamond rain worlds.

“We want to understand what happens to the diamond crystals over geologic timescales after they sink into the planetary interior. Do they melt back into carbon fluids, or is the deep interior of these worlds filled with diamonds?” asked Dr. Julia Cortez, a planetary geologist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute.

Conclusion

The unexpected revelation that diamond rain can occur under more common atmospheric conditions than previously thought is redefining scientists’ understanding of exotic weather across the universe.

“This discovery illustrates how little we truly comprehend about the stunning diversity of planetary environments in our galaxy and beyond,” said Dr. Alan Stern, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “With further analysis of diamond rain worlds, we can gain extraordinary insights into the complexity emergent under different cosmic conditions.”

The breakthrough finding sets the stage for an exciting new phase of research into diamond rain and other alien weather phenomena on potentially millions of distant worlds.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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