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Space Science

NASA Looking For "Diamonds In The Sky" 101

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the asteroid-mining-the-next-big-industry dept.
I Don't Believe in Imaginary Property writes "Scientist Charles Bauschlicher and his research team have found a new way to look for 'diamonds in the sky'. It may not be romantic, but diamonds shine especially brightly in the 3.4 to 3.5 micron and 6 to 10 micron infrared ranges, which should make NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope the perfect tool to see them with. Though less common and more monopolized on earth, diamonds are surprisingly common in outer space and the nanometer-sized bits comprise 3% of all the carbon found in meteorites. That means that if meteorite composition is representative of interstellar dust, that dust would contain about 10 quadrillion (1 * 10^16) nanodiamonds per gram."
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NASA Looking For "Diamonds In The Sky"

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  • A whole new marketing campaign suggests itself: "Give her the gift of the stars"

    Or something like that, anyway.
    • by Todd Fisher (680265) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @05:57PM (#22580624) Homepage
      A whole new marketing campaign suggests itself: "Give her the gift of the stars"

      Because any woman worth marrying knows that if meteorite composition is representative of interstellar dust, that dust would contain about 10 quadrillion (1 * 10^16) nanodiamonds per gram.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Floritard (1058660)
        "Nanodiamonds. Invisible to the naked eye, because love is about trust."
      • Press Release: DeBeers announces today that it will be buying diamonds from the Rebels for Unified Federation Space (or RUF for short) DeBeers believes in the fight of RUF to free itself from evil killer space kittens trying to force their evil democracy on them. Diamond prices inexplicably rose as supplies increased... =X In an unrelated story DeBeers purchases huge warehouse surrounded by armed guards to "Not store surplus diamonds in so as to keep demand high"
    • Give her diamonds - they're pretty much all over the place and there for the taking!
      • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @06:25PM (#22580982)
        They pretty much are on Earth already. There's nothing special about diamonds, really. DeBeers has spent decades convincing everyone how great they are because they've locked up the supply chain from end to end. Search on "blood diamonds" some time.
        • by flappinbooger (574405) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @09:36PM (#22583230) Homepage
          Yeah, but they're shiny.
          • by sumdumass (711423)
            They aren't shiny silly, they are sparkly.
            • Mmmmm, sparkly! (reaches for wallet)
            • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

              by kurzweilfreak (829276)
              So is a bass boat. Get her that for your wedding anniversary and see how well that goes over.
              • by sumdumass (711423)
                Hows that saying go? Wife says something has to go, it will be either the bass boat or her. Will take $5000 for either, you pick your misery.

                Or was it, I got a new bass boat for my wife, Best trade I ever made.
          • by RockDoctor (15477)

            Yeah, but they're shiny.

            Not until some slave-labourer kid in a sweat shop in Bangalore has spent about 3 hours cutting the stone to shape and polishing it. Un-polished diamonds aren't called "rough" without good reason. They look like greyish pebbles with a moderate sheen on them. "Rock Crystal" quartz is far prettier. Compare these diamond [galleries.com] specimens with these rock crystal [galleries.com] specimens.

            OK - I'm a geologist, so I might have different standards to the man on the Clapham omnibus. But I can imagine the result I'd

            • I had a great Geology course in college (I'm an ME) and it was very fun. We had a hard end of term project where we had to identify a box of rocks, had some good field trips to a local strip mine, so on. Definitely interesting and enlightening.

              It probably helped that the course was taught by someone who had a real interest in the field.
              • by RockDoctor (15477)

                It probably helped that the course was taught by someone who had a real interest in the field.

                Certainly does help.
                My introduction to the field was through a geography teacher who wasn't himself particularly clued up on the field - the old "stay one chapter ahead of the kids" school of teaching - but he was well keen. It wasn't really any surprise to bump into him (and several other teachers) on top of a mountain during half term. Great minds think alike.
        • he had some the size on mountains in that story, but I won't spoil it. Great read.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          DeBeers created the greatest marketing campaign in history. (recently voted on by marketing people.) Even children know that a man gives a woman a diamond before marriage. Which wasn't always the case. And they created the idea that second-hand diamonds are somehow inferior. A "diamond is forever" after all.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by wdebruij (239038)
          Or read this great example of investigative reporting from 1982:
          Have you ever tried to sell a diamond [theatlantic.com].
          It's all still true today (although you might have to swap some
          country names here and there).

          Even if you don't care about diamonds per se, the "gem" diamond business
          is interesting for its unique economy and as an example of the power of
          PR firms.

          I will never by a "natural gem" in my life. Nothing says I love you like
          pure zirkonium. Not that any woman would know the difference, anyway.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by antic (29198)
          You can bet that even if masses of diamonds from some extraterrestrial source flooded the market here, and the usual culprits weren't getting their usual share/control, that they'd bump up the marketing suggesting that those weren't the same, weren't as special, weren't as rare, etc. Witness the diamond testing systems that look for flaws to ascertain whether a gem is artificial. Crazy.
          • by tcolberg (998885)
            I can imagine a xenophobia developing combined with a nostalgia for "earthborn" items. First with diamonds, then people. Refer to Mass Effect for details.
        • I guess I'm lucky......
          1. I have a wife.....
          2. She prefers CZ over real diamonds any day
          Screw you, DeBeers........
          • by kesuki (321456)
            CZ may be fine for wife, but Moissanite is a scientists best friend. since it's about as hard as a diamond, it can be used for 'hardness testing' it's also a semiconductor of temperature and electricity, making it perfect for high-stress electronics, where silicon would break... it's also sold as a jewel.
    • by Wandering Wombat (531833) <mightyjalapeno.gmail@com> on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @05:59PM (#22580662) Homepage Journal
      I gave her a Klein bottle of superheated hydrogen, and she just burst into flames... I mean, burst into tears. Tears.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by dafrazzman (1246706)
      Some people buy stars or diamonds in space, but I'm smart enough to know that that sort of thing is a really impractical gift. I already bought a ranch on the moon for my future wife. Best. Gift. Ever.
  • by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @05:53PM (#22580532) Homepage
    In his novel 2061: Odyssey Three [amazon.com] Arthur C. Clarke described the core of Jupiter as nearly solid diamond, formed by the enormous pressure of the gas giant's atmosphere. Is there any probability that this is true, or was it only a science-fiction author's imagination?
    • by mblase (200735) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @05:56PM (#22580592)
      I'm pretty sure this was first mentioned in the book version of "2010: Odyssey Two", IIRC.

      And he was basing it on serious scientific speculation, but no one has any way of knowing for sure.
      • by TeknoHog (164938)

        I'm pretty sure this was first mentioned in the book version of "2010: Odyssey Two", IIRC.

        I second (pun intended) this. IIRC, Jupiter was converted into a sun, so there must have been discussion on its chemical composition. OTOH, 2061 was about Halley's comet.

        • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward
          While it may have been briefly mentioned in 2010, it was indeed a major plot point in 2061. After the part on Haley's comet, the main thrust of the book is that a ship has crashed landed on Europa (which was forbidden in 2010.) During the rescue attempt, a diamond mountain is discovered (and one of the characters short sells diamonds before anyone finds out.) The diamond mountain was basically ejected from Jupiter's core when it became a sun.

          I can't believe I remember this.

    • by Dr. Cody (554864)
      Wouldn't that leave us some serious questions about its magnetic field?
    • by delibes (303485) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @06:11PM (#22580796)
      Maybe - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BPM_37093 [wikipedia.org] But you're unlikely to get your hand on it. Still it's nice to imagine isn't it?
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Difficult to know for sure, there's certainly some chance there'd be significant diamond or silicon carbide layers, but it's probably mostly metallic hydrogen with an iron-and-radioactives "core" core (probably much like earth's only bigger, despite the other vast differences). Due to the reactivity of carbon and hydrogen, most carbon present is probably as hydrocarbons in the atmosphere.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      No, the core of some gas giants is not always diamonds. If you read Arthur C. Clarke's next novel "20AT: Odyssey Four" he describes the core of Uranus as being mostly solid dark matter!
    • SciFi author's do speak truth look at Scientology.
    • by reverseengineer (580922) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @07:01PM (#22581462)
      Arthur C. Clarke noted that the idea that Jupiter's core was a gigantic diamond was inspired by an article [nature.com] in Nature which speculated that a solid layer observed in the compositions of Uranus and Neptune was composed of carbon liberated by intense pressure from methane.

      Laboratory experiments [sciencemag.org] mimicking the temperatures and pressures found deep within those planets suggest diamond production is indeed possible, but would be more likely to be an agglomerate mass of diamond microcrystals than the yottacarat diamond solitaire envisioned by Clarke. Uranus and Neptune would probably make for better diamond production than Jupiter and Saturn due to a higher abundance of methane and thus carbon.

      That being said, recent research suggests [newscientist.com] that Uranus and Neptune are not sufficiently carbon-rich to have produced an appreciable amount of diamond after all.

      • Why isn't anyone mining Uranus for diamonds, then? Seem that this would be the cheapest (and most profitable) space exploration possible!
        • I'm not entirely sure that would be cheap! And then if you, in a magical world far in the future, create a viable constant mining business/supply chain from Uranus, you're dealing with the fact that you're creating increased supply so the price/value of diamond by definition goes down, unless demand outstrips supply.
    • by Sockatume (732728)
      According to his end-notes, it was inspired by some theoretical paper, so at least somebody thought it was likely.
    • by ls -la (937805)
      If it were made of carbon, it would likely be diamond; however that is quite unlikely. It's most likely iron with some nickel mixed in like our core. And it probably is solid because of the pressure.
  • by Zondar (32904) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @05:53PM (#22580534)
    why my wife came home today with an application for the space program... and my name was already filled out at the top.
  • Sci-fi story stereotype: mining asteroids or planets, as part of the backstory to give a character a job.
    So now that person actually has a reason to be doing that. :)
    • by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @06:03PM (#22580728) Homepage
      Larry Niven already described a sociey of asteroid belt miners in great depth in his Known Space stories of the 1960s and 1970s. Similarly, Michael Flynn had asteroid mining as one of the big commercial ventures that popped up when private corporations finally got up into orbit. Even without diamonds, there's enough precious metals up there that the notion of space miners has fired the imagination of many science-fiction writers.
    • by SleepingWaterBear (1152169) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @06:25PM (#22580986)
      Actually, diamonds probably aren't worth the trouble of asteroid mining. Crushed diamond powder is cheap and plentiful right here on earth. It's only the larger chunks of diamond that are valued much, and even those aren't in short supply. The price of diamonds is only as high as it is because a cartel of the major producers work in collusion to keep the prices up. I suppose diamonds from asteroid mining might force them to lower their prices a bit, but it's unlikely that mining asteroids for diamonds could successfully compete with earth based diamond mining.
      Quite possibly if we do end up with asteroid miners, they'll be throwing away cheap carbon compounds like diamonds, in favor of useful ores like iron or nickel.
      • Quite possibly if we do end up with asteroid miners, they'll be throwing away cheap carbon compounds like diamonds, in favor of useful ores like iron or nickel.

        Iron and nickel are extremely cheap and plentiful on earth. If it's mined for return to earth as a paying mining project, it won't be iron and nickel. As it is, only Helium-3 is worth going to space to mine, and I'm not sure I even believe that's viable. First, it assumes that fusion power is viable, it may be but it may take a long time to become
        • by tcolberg (998885)

          Is not most of the Helium 3 present on space-borne objects due to the ejecta of the sun? IIRC, that's why Helium 3 is plentiful and only in the regolith of the Moon.

          Asteroids may not have a similar layer of dust to adequately collect Helium 3. Asteroids are better for ores and rare earths that are in short supply or are too difficult to mine, such as copper, platinum, palladium, and perhaps uranium. Even though these materials would be valuable, it will probably be too inefficient to mine asteroids that

  • Wow... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @05:57PM (#22580632)
    In other news DeBeers has announced plans to launch millions of poverty stricken Africans into space. They'll be equipped with 60 minutes of oxygen and lunch box sized capsules capable of reentering Earths atmosphere.
  • by kailoran (887304) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @05:58PM (#22580640)
    Are they looking for Lucy too?
  • What are the uses for nanodiamonds? Can you glue them together for a "big" rock?
    • .. ring for a dollar. She can show her friends it and tell them it's diamond, and you're only out of pocket by the cost of half a beer.
    • Re:Nanodiamonds (Score:5, Informative)

      by Intron (870560) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @06:11PM (#22580802)
      You can make great sandpaper.
      • Re:Nanodiamonds (Score:5, Informative)

        by NotQuiteReal (608241) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @07:24PM (#22581740) Journal
        Yes, diamond powder is great for grinding and polishing hard things, like silicon wafers.

        Industrial diamond is manufactured cheaply. You can even find it on eBay for a couple of bucks a carat.

        The trick is getting a consistent grit/mesh/size so that you know how polished you can make your wafers.

        I worked with a guy in the 80's who had a side business making diamond grinding compounds for customers in the bay area - he would pre-load his secret mixture into grease-guns he bought at Sears. They were single use, he told me. I don't remember why, something about screwing up the seals, or maybe a used grease gun put contaminates in the grinding goop... anyhow he made really good money at it for some reason, there must have been more to it than meets the eye. He was a retired nuclear physicist, so he knew what he was doing, when it came to small particles.

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          I worked with a guy in the 80's who had a side business making diamond grinding compounds for customers in the bay area - he would pre-load his secret mixture into grease-guns he bought at Sears. They were single use, he told me. I don't remember why, something about screwing up the seals, or maybe a used grease gun put contaminates in the grinding goop... anyhow he made really good money at it for some reason, there must have been more to it than meets the eye. He was a retired nuclear physicist, so he knew what he was doing, when it came to small particles.

          Dude! I know this guy, you and I have so totally worked in the same meth lab!

    • You know Mama don't want no diamond where she needs a microscope to check it out.
    • Might be useful as a coating; of course the other thing is have we looked on Earth for them? They might be more common terrestrially than we though too.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    That is the great lie the diamond industry wants you to believe. Ask any geologist. Diamonds are very common.
  • by Tired and Emotional (750842) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @06:26PM (#22580988)
    So what does that work out to in carets per cubic parsec?
    • by Mortiss (812218)
      Approx. ^_^ ^106
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caret/ [wikipedia.org]
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Taking the density of diamond to be 3.5 grams per cubic centimeter, and these diamonds to each have a volume of about 1 cubic nanometer, the average interstellar nanodiamond has a carat weight of 1.75*10^-20 carats (One carat is 200 milligrams). The interstellar molecular clouds where we would expect to find these diamonds have a density [princeton.edu] of about 2 x 10^-22 grams per cubic centimeter; one cubic centimeter is about 3.4*10^-56 cubic parsecs, so there are about 5.9*10^33 grams of matter in a cubic parsec.

      Us

  • So more than one allotrope of one of the most common elements in the Universe, carbon, is present in interplanetary and interstellar space.

    Well, duh. It would be shocking if there weren't any carbon in the form of diamond out there. That fact would take some serious explaining.

    And, er, so what? Obviously no one will ever mine diamonds in outer space, inasmuch as the cost to transport miners to them and the mined diamonds back utterly dwarfs the value of the diamonds, or even the cost to manufacture them.
    • by KDR_11k (778916)
      Might be useful if you need diamond dust in space for something and don't want to spend the energy to lift it off the Earth though.
      • In a future in which there is some vast civilization among the asteroids, yes. But I think certainly within my lifetime, and that of my children, it will be far cheaper to bring along a little diamond dust than the tools, equipment, and fuel necessary to do a little mining along with whatever else you're doing.

        It's not clear to me that diamond is all that useful, anyway. The best use of it I can imagine is for super high quality windows for optical, UV and IR instruments. But for that you need very pure
  • Centuries ago, when we had hurt each other so bitterly, I had flung her to outer space, with all the diamonds I had bestowed upon her, and though I brought her back eventually, the diamonds had been broken into pieces and scattered far and wide..... oh well.... seems NASA is starting to look for them.. she will be happy :)
  • by Hubbell (850646) <.moc.evil. .ta. .iillebbuhnairb.> on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @07:59PM (#22582150)
    Diamonds are not scarce by any means on earth, it's simply a front put up by the DeBeers company.
  • They should first search in the sky for Lucy. I have heard that she is always accompanied by diamonds.
  • Oh tell me why do we build diamonds in the sky
  • Diamonds. That'll shut her up!!
  • NASA found out just now.. I knew that from my nursery rhymes :D
  • Why bother (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    We have come a long way in synthetic diamond production. It would be way cheaper to refine that technology thanit would be to try scouring space for what is literally diamond dust.
  • Funny how The article starts out saying "Diamonds may be rare on Earth" We all know this is a lie that De Beers has propagated so they can charge outrageous prices. Diamonds are actually fairly common in certain places. Apparently they have the Jet Propulsion Laboratory fooled as well, because this article appears on their site.

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