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Diamond planet discovered 40 light years from Earth


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New research suggests that a massive, star-scorched planet in the Cancer constellation, not far from our solar system, is made in large part of diamonds, opening new vistas on the way scientists understand how planets are created.

The planet, 55 Cancri e, is twice the size of Earth and so rich in carbon that it holds at least three times our planet’s mass in diamonds, according to a new paper that has been accepted for publication in the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters.

“We’re talking about a rocky planet. Not much gas, almost entirely solid. The outermost layer is at an extremely high temperature ... There could also be a lot of diamonds on the surface because of the geophysical movements in the interior. The diamonds could come to the surface very easily,” Dr. Madhusudhan said in an interview.On 55 Cancri e, the surface is covered in graphite, the dark stuff of pencils, with diamonds pushing through from layers underneath, said the paper’s lead researcher, Nikku Madhusudhan, a fellow at Yale University’s Center for Astronomy & Astrophysics.

“But just below the surface there is a very thick layer, about a third of the whole radius [of the planet], just in diamonds.”

That rocky, mind-boggling world broils under 2,150C heat because the planet is so close to its star.

“There’s not even a climate left. It’s rubbed off by the heat. It’s a permanent barbecue,” said co-author Olivier Mousis, a French astronomer at Université de Franche-Comté.

The planet is the closest of five that orbit around 55 Cancri A, a star located 40 light years from Earth, close enough that it can sometimes be seen with the naked eye.

“In astronomy terms, it’s like one of our suburbs. It’s closer to us than you and I are on the phone,” said Dr. Mousis, who was speaking from his office in Besançon, near the French-Swiss border.

The planet was detected in 2004 and its radius was estimated through transiting, meaning that scientists deduced 55 Cancri e’s size by measuring the decrease in luminosity when the orbiting planet transited in front of its star.

At first, researchers assumed that the planet’s composition was similar to the Earth, with iron, silicates and water.

However, Dr. Madhusudhan said, that model didn’t properly fit because, to match 55 Cancri e’s mass, an Earth-like model would required a massive layer of water that would have been in a supercritical state, neither liquid nor gas, because of the extreme conditions on the planet.

“That type of explanation wasn’t adequate ... it was a vision that was too anthropocentric,” Dr. Mousis said.

Their suspicions that another model should apply was further buttressed when spectrographic data showed that 55 Cancri e’s star was also very rich in carbon.

Presuming that the star and its planets were created from the same original chemical cloud, the researchers tested a number of chemical combinations that could better explain the planet’s mass.

The carbon-rich scenarios fit their calculations best, signalling a fundamental shift in the way faraway planets should be analyzed, Dr. Madhusudhan said.

“When we are looking for planets in outer solar systems, we now have to be very open with regards to their chemistry. We cannot presume that they are Earth-like.”

Baking so close to its star, 55 Cancri e could not host life but Dr. Madhusudhan said its existence raised questions about other high-carbon, low-water planets.

“We have to be open with regards what kind of biology could exist ... if we had the same planet at a cooler temperature, the life forms there could be very different from what we know. There wouldn’t be enough water or oxygen for them to survive so they would have to adapt to something else.”

The researchers are hoping to gain better insight on 55 Cancri e with more data from sources such as the Hubble telescope, NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, which works in the infrared spectrum, and the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, which is run jointly with the National Research Council of Canada.

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So your wife is going to expect NASA to come up with a spacecraft that could travel 40 light years to pick up diamonds from this planet and travel back 40 light years to Earth so she can have a "space diamond" for her Bday?

Perhaps a more suitable birthday gift would be subscription to a science and space magazine.

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De Beers is a family of companies that dominate the diamond, diamond mining, diamond hops, diamond trading and industrial diamond manufacturing sectors. De Beers is active in every category of industrial diamond mining: open-pit, underground, large-scale alluvial, coastal and deep sea.[1] Mining takes place in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Canada.

The company was founded by Cecil Rhodes, who was financed by Alfred Beit and Rothschild.[2] In 1927, Ernest Oppenheimer, a German Jewish immigrant to Britain who had earlier founded mining giant Anglo American plc with American financier J.P. Morgan,[3] managed to wrest control of the empire, building and consolidating the company's global monopoly over the diamond industry until his retirement. During this time, he was involved in a number of controversies, including price fixing, antitrust behaviour and an allegation of not releasing industrial diamonds for the US war effort during World War II.[


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