It’s Raining Diamonds on Uranus!

by KIDS DISCOVER

Neptune

Scientists say it actually rains diamonds on Uranus and Neptune. The planets’ dense atmospheres are believed to contain a high percentage of methane under layers of hydrogen and helium.

You know methane … it’s the main component of natural gas. It explodes when lit. It’s a greenhouse gas that’s emitted into the atmosphere through mining and farting, among other events. But … let’s get back to diamonds.

On Earth, diamonds form under extreme heat and pressure. The temperatures on the seventh and eight planets from our sun range from 3,000-12,000 degrees F, with pressures anywhere from 200,000 to 6 million times greater than the pressure on Earth.

So where do the diamonds come from? Methane’s chemical formula is CH4, which means it’s made up of one atom of carbon bonded to four atoms of hydrogen. Scientists theorized that even at the low ends of the above heat and pressure ranges, methane would separate into hydrogen and carbon, and the carbon would be compressed into diamonds.

So they tested the theory, using a gas cannon on methane samples. Sure enough, when they compressed and shocked the methane, they found evidence of instantaneous diamond dust formation. Similar experiments have been done at other labs since, producing the same results.

Describing a 1999 experiment at UC Berkeley that used an infrared laser to heat compressed methane, scientist Laura Robin Benedetti said, “It’s really cool to watch. When you turn on the laser the methane turns black because of all the diamonds created. The black diamond specks float in a clear hydrocarbon liquid melted by the laser.” That does sound cool.

That’s why they believe it literally rains diamonds on these two planets. And then the gems are forced toward the planets’ cores by gravity … so they pile up miles deep! Now you have a get-rich-quick scheme: All you have to do is get to Uranus, scoop up a bazillion dollars worth of diamonds, and return to Earth. Good luck!

KIDS DISCOVER

KIDS DISCOVER For over 25 years, we’ve been creating beautifully crafted nonfiction products for kids. With a specialty in science and social studies, our team of talented writers, award-winning designers and illustrators, and subject-experts from leading institutions is committed to a single mission: to get children excited about reading and learning.