It rains diamonds on Neptune and Uranus and the phenomenon can be recreated with a simple plastic bottle

It rains diamonds on Neptune and Uranus and the phenomenon can be recreated with a simple plastic bottle

The conditions inside planets like Neptune y Uranus they are extreme: even though they are icy giants, temperatures inside reach several thousand degrees Celsius and the pressure is millions of times greater than in the Earth’s atmosphere. It is believed that these peculiar conditions cause the hydrocarbon compounds to separate, including carbon, and that the high pressures compress these molecules, converting them into diamante, sinking inexorably toward the planetary cores. Now, an international team led by the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf laboratory, the University of Rostock (both centers in Germany) and the École Polytechnique (France) has been able to test what happens billions of kilometers away in something as simple as a simple plastic bottle. And it is more: they have devised a new way of recreating something similar to that ‘rain’ of small diamonds that occurs inside these planets and collect them for applications that may be the basis of future medical treatments or promising quantum computers. The results have just been published in the journal ‘Science Advances’.

Conditions inside icy giant planets can be briefly recreated in the laboratory: powerful laser flashes hit a film-shaped sample of material, heating it up to 6,000 degrees Celsius in the blink of an eye, generating a shock wave that compresses the material for a few nanoseconds at a million times atmospheric pressure. “Until now, we used hydrocarbon films for this type of experiment,” he explains. Dominik Kraus, HZDR physicist and professor at the University of Rostock. “And we found that this extreme pressure produced tiny diamonds, known as nanodiamonds.”

However, with these films it was only possible to partially simulate the interior of the planets, because the ice giants contain not only carbon and hydrogen, but also large amounts of oxygen. Searching for the right material for the film, the group was surprised at how well PET, the resin from which ordinary plastic bottles are made, was a good fit.

“PET has a good balance between carbon, hydrogen and oxygen to simulate activity on ice planets,” explains Kraus. The team conducted their experiments at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in California, the location of the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS), a powerful accelerator-based X-ray laser. They used it to analyze what happens when intensive laser flashes hit PET film, using two measurement methods at the same time.

“The effect of oxygen was to speed up the splitting of carbon and hydrogen and thus encourage the formation of nanodiamonds,” says Kraus. “It meant that carbon atoms could combine more easily and form diamonds.” This further supports the assumption that it literally rains diamonds inside the ice giants. The findings are probably not only relevant to Uranus and Neptune, but also to countless other planets in our galaxy: while these ice giants were once thought to be rarities, it now seems clear that they are probably the most common form of planet outside the Solar System. Solar.

The team also found hints of another kind: in combination with diamonds, water should be produced, but in an unusual variant. «It is possible that the so-called superionic water has been formed -says Kraus.. «The oxygen atoms form a crystal lattice in which the hydrogen nuclei move freely». Because the nuclei are electrically charged, superionic water can conduct electrical current and thus help create the ice giants’ magnetic field. However, with their experiments, the group has not yet been able to unequivocally demonstrate the existence of superionic water in the mixture with diamonds (although it is one of the medium-term objectives).

creating nanodiamonds

The new experiment also opens up prospects for a technical application: the tailor-made production of nanometer-sized diamonds. “Until now, diamonds of this type have been produced mainly by detonating explosives,” explains Kraus. “With the help of laser flashes, they could be manufactured much more cleanly in the future.” For example, they hold promise in the field of highly sensitive quantum sensors; as medical contrast agents or the most efficient transport of drugs in the body; and as efficient reaction accelerators, for example, to split carbon dioxide.

The scientists’ vision is to create a high-performance laser that fires ten flashes per second at beam-illuminated PET film at intervals of one-tenth of a second. The nanodiamonds thus created shoot out of the film and fall into a collection tank filled with water. There they slow down and can then be effectively filtered and harvested. The essential advantage of this method in contrast to production by explosives is that “nanodiamonds could be cut to size or even doped with other atoms,” emphasizes Kraus. “The X-ray laser means we have a laboratory tool that can precisely control the growth of diamonds.”


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