Diamond planet discovered by astronomers
Planet may even sparkle like a disco ball when light shines on it.
Fri, Aug 26 2011 at 4:07 AM
If a diamond truly is a girl's best friend, then astronomers working from Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia, may have just discovered the supreme BFF: a planet made of solid diamond, according to a report by New Scientist.
The planet is orbiting a pulsar about 4,000 light-years away, and it represents some serious bling. Astronomers estimate that the planet is barely under 60,000 kilometers in diameter and has a mass roughly equal to that of Jupiter.
Although the planet is too far away to be seen through a conventional telescope, astronomers were able to infer its existence by observing periodic flickers in the pulsar it is orbiting. Those minor flickers represent the gravitational tug and pull of an orbiting body; a startling find since few pulsars have been discovered with planets in orbit. (Of the 1,800 known pulsars, only two others have been found to harbor planets!)
What astronomers discovered next seems even more unbelievable: given the variations in the pulsar's flickering, they calculated that the planet had a mass the size of Jupiter but was orbiting the pulsar at a distance of just 600,000 kilometers. At such a close orbit, any gas giant planet like Jupiter should have been ripped apart by the intense gravitational forces acting upon it.
So the planet can't be a gas giant like Jupiter; it has to be much smaller, and much more dense. In fact, it can't be any larger than 60,000 kilometers in diameter. That's about 40 percent of Jupiter's width.
Any planet of such a small size with the mass of Jupiter, under such intense pressure from its own gravity, would crystallize. If that planet was also composed primarily of carbon (a likely scenario for this planet, since it is probably a stripped-down star), that would make it a diamond planet.
The following video illustrates the science behind the discovery:
Even more exciting, the diamond planet likely sparkles as a gem would here on Earth.
"It's highly speculative, but if you shine a light on it, I can't see any reason why it wouldn't sparkle like a diamond," said Travis Metcalfe of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo.
As for how much the planet-sized diamond is worth, that all depends on its quality — but there are probably few places in our galaxy with pricier real estate.
Also on MNN: 10 must-see images from the WISE telescope
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