BEIRUT

Sci&Tech

Diamond in the sky:A gem larger than earth

  • This artist’s rendition released by Yale University shows the interior of “55 Cancri E,” twice Earth’s size and thought to consist largely of diamond.

LONDON: Forget the diamond as big as the Ritz. Astronomers have found one that’s bigger than planet Earth. Orbiting a star that is visible to the naked eye, astronomers have discovered a planet twice the size of our own made largely out of diamond.

The rocky planet, called “55 Cancri e,” orbits a sun-like star in the constellation of Cancer and is moving so fast that a year there lasts a mere 18 hours.

Discovered by a U.S.-Franco research team, its radius is twice that of Earth’s with a mass eight times greater. That would give it the same density as Earth, although previously observed diamond planets are reckoned to be denser.

It is also incredibly hot, with temperatures on its surface reaching 1,648 degrees Celsius.

“The surface of this planet is likely covered in graphite and diamond rather than water and granite,” said Nikku Madhusudhan, the Yale researcher whose findings are due to be published in the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters.

The study – with Olivier Mousis at the Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planetologie in Toulouse, France – estimates that at least a third of the planet’s mass, the equivalent of about three Earth masses, could be diamond.

Diamond planets have been spotted before but this is the first time one has been seen orbiting a sun-like star and studied in such detail.

“This is our first glimpse of a rocky world with a fundamentally different chemistry from Earth,” Madhusudhan said, adding that the discovery of the carbon-rich planet meant distant rocky planets could no longer be assumed to have chemical constituents, interiors, atmospheres, or biologies similar to Earth.

David Spergel, an astronomer at Princeton University, said it was relatively simple to work out the basic structure and history of a star once you know its mass and age.

“Planets are much more complex. This ‘diamond-rich super-Earth’ is likely just one example of the rich sets of discoveries that await us as we begin to explore planets around nearby stars,” Spergel said.

“Nearby” is a relative concept in astronomy. Any fortune-hunter not dissuaded by “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz,” F. Scott Fitzgerald’s jazz age morality tale of thwarted greed, will find Cancri e about 40 light years, or 230 trillion miles, from Park Avenue.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 15, 2012, on page 13.
Advertisement

Comments

Your feedback is important to us!

We invite all our readers to share with us their views and comments about this article.

Disclaimer: Comments submitted by third parties on this site are the sole responsibility of the individual(s) whose content is submitted. The Daily Star accepts no responsibility for the content of comment(s), including, without limitation, any error, omission or inaccuracy therein. Please note that your email address will NOT appear on the site.

comments powered by Disqus

Advertisement

FOLLOW THIS ARTICLE

Interested in knowing more about this story?

Click here