Researchers reveal new findings about diamond rain on icy planets

Researchers reveal new findings about diamond rain on icy planets

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State diagram of hydrocarbons at high pressure and temperature. The diagram shows the different conditions necessary for diamond formation, as well as the specific phase transitions (solid lines) and planetary interiors (dashed). Studies using static pressure (orange region and red region) observed diamond formation at lower pressure and temperature than shock experiments (blue region), which observed it only at conditions corresponding to those where hydrogen is metallic. The results presented here confirm that diamond formation can occur under conditions found in the shallow interior of Uranus and Neptune, including at lower estimates of temperature conditions. Conditions for diamond formation in shocked polyethylene terephthalate (C10H8Hey4)n (green area), the melting curve of diamond and the isoentropy of Jupiter are also shown. credit: Nature astronomy (2024). doi: 10.1038/s41550-023-02147-x

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State diagram of hydrocarbons at high pressure and temperature. The diagram shows the different conditions necessary for diamond formation, as well as the specific phase transitions (solid lines) and planetary interiors (dashed). Studies using static pressure (orange region and red region) observed diamond formation at lower pressure and temperature than shock experiments (blue region), which observed it only at conditions corresponding to those where hydrogen is metallic. The results presented here confirm that diamond formation can occur under conditions found in the shallow interior of Uranus and Neptune, including at lower estimates of temperature conditions. Conditions for diamond formation in shocked polyethylene terephthalate (C10H8Hey4)n (green area), the melting curve of diamond and the isoentropy of Jupiter are also shown. credit: Nature astronomy (2024). doi: 10.1038/s41550-023-02147-x

An international team of researchers led by Dr. Mungo Frost from the SLAC Research Center in California has obtained new insights into the formation of diamond rain on icy planets such as Neptune and Uranus, using the European X-ray laser XFEL in Schnefeld. The results also provide evidence of the formation of these planets’ complex magnetic fields.

In previous work on X-ray lasers, scientists discovered that diamonds must form from carbon compounds found in the interiors of large gas planets due to the high pressure prevailing there. Then these elements will sink further into the interior of the planets in the form of rain of gems coming from the upper layers.

A new experiment at the European XFEL has shown that the formation of diamonds from carbon compounds actually begins at lower pressures and temperatures than previously assumed. For gas planets, this means that diamond rain actually forms at a lower depth than previously thought, and thus could have a stronger effect on the formation of magnetic fields.

In addition, diamond rain is also possible on gaseous planets smaller than Neptune and Uranus, which are called “mini-Neptunes.” There are no such planets in our solar system, but they appear as exoplanets outside the solar system.

The research is published in the journal Nature astronomy.

On its way from the outer layers to the inner layers of the planets, diamond rain can pull in gas and ice, causing streams of conductive ice. The streams of conductive fluids act as a kind of dynamo through which the planets’ magnetic fields are formed.

“Diamond rain likely had an impact on the formation of the complex magnetic fields of Uranus and Neptune,” Frost said.

The group used a plastic film made from the hydrocarbon compound polystyrene as the carbon source. Under very high pressure, diamonds form from flakes, a process that occurs in the same way as it does in planetary interiors and which can be replicated at the European XFEL.

The researchers generated the high pressure and temperature of more than 2,200 degrees Celsius prevalent inside the icy gas giants with the help of diamond stamp cells and lasers. The stamp cells act like a small vice in which the sample is compressed between two diamonds. With the help of European XFEL pulses, the time, conditions and sequence of diamond formation in the stamp cell can be precisely observed.

The international research team also includes scientists from the European XFEL, the German research centers DESY in Hamburg, and the Helmholtz Center Dresden-Rossendorf, as well as other research institutions and universities from different countries. The European XFEL User Consortium HIBEF, which includes the research centers HZDR and DESY, has contributed significantly to this work.

“Through this international collaboration, we have made significant progress in European XFEL and gained fascinating new insights into icy planets,” Frost says.

more information:
Mungo-Frost et al., Dynamics of diamond precipitation from hydrocarbons in icy planet interior conditions, Nature astronomy (2024). doi: 10.1038/s41550-023-02147-x

Magazine information:
Nature astronomy

Provided by the European company XFEL

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