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Space Science

Uranus and Neptune May Have "Oceans of Diamonds" 347

Posted by kdawson
from the went-to-sea-in-a-sieve dept.
Third Position writes "Oceans of liquid diamond topped with solid 'icebergs' of the precious gems could be on Uranus and Neptune. The first-ever detailed research into the melting point of diamond found it behaves like water during melting and freezing — with its solid form floating on the liquid. A large diamond ocean on one or both of the planets could provide an explanation for an oddity they both share: unlike Earth, they do not have magnetic poles that match up with their geographical poles." The article doesn't mention what the pressures might be like in these outer-planets environments, but the researchers found that liquefying diamond requires 40 million times Earth's atmospheric pressure at sea level.
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Uranus and Neptune May Have "Oceans of Diamonds"

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  • Finally (Score:5, Funny)

    by langelgjm (860756) on Monday January 25, 2010 @10:36PM (#30899474) Journal
    So now /.ers can tell their "girlfriends" that if you want a diamond, you're free to look for one in Uranus?
  • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot@hacki s h . o rg> on Monday January 25, 2010 @10:38PM (#30899486)

    Like many sci-fi authors who predicted inventions long before they became practical, bluegrass can now claim [youtube.com] foresight into future scientific advances.

  • by hitchhacker (122525) on Monday January 25, 2010 @10:39PM (#30899500) Homepage

    "Pardon my French, but Cameron is so tight that if you stuck a lump of coal up his ass, in two weeks you'd have a diamond."

    -- Ferris Bueller

  • by mykos (1627575) on Monday January 25, 2010 @10:42PM (#30899518)

    I'd like to let everyone know that Mars is full of gold just under the crust, and every planet around Proxima Centauri is rich with uranium.

    Get that space program moving.

  • by TheRealMindChild (743925) on Monday January 25, 2010 @10:43PM (#30899534) Homepage Journal
    detailed research into the melting point of diamond found it behaves like water during melting and freezing -- with its solid form floating on the liquid

    I only point this out because you would be surprised at how many human beings don't know this, but for it to float to the top, that means its frozen state is less dense, hence expands, when freezes. Almost nothing else does this.
    • by Cyrano de Maniac (60961) on Monday January 25, 2010 @10:57PM (#30899612)

      There's at least one notable substance that shares this property: Water. That's why it forms ice on the top surface rather than along the bottom/sides of the container (be that container a bucket, a river, or a lake). This very fact is instrumental to life on our little globe.

    • by TapeCutter (624760) * on Monday January 25, 2010 @10:59PM (#30899620) Journal
      You beat me to it, I also find this the most interesting part of the TFA. I wonder if this unusual property is more or less pronunced in carbon than it is in water, ie: do the diamondbergs float higher or lower in the liquid carbon than icebergs do in liquid water?
      • by reverseengineer (580922) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @01:13AM (#30900506)
        My guess is that the difference in density may be strongly dependent on the pressure. At standard conditions, diamond is actually the densest form of pure carbon, and at atmospheric pressure, carbon sublimates instead of melting. It seems possible to me that liquid diamond is more compressible than solid diamond, such that the liquid density is more variable than the solid density with respect to pressure. Under a relatively low applied pressure (well, still gigapascals), diamondbergs would sink. At some phenomenal pressure, the densities would match and solid would be neutrally buoyant in liquid. Above that pressure, the atoms in liquid diamond would be more crushed together than those in the diamond lattice, and the crystal would float. The inherent strength of the cage-like solid diamond structure makes it energetically favorable, despite the atoms being farther apart.
  • There's no way this is even remotely possible.

    I mean, diamonds are rare, aren't they? You know it, I know it, and De Beers know it.

  • by cmowire (254489) on Monday January 25, 2010 @10:51PM (#30899584) Homepage

    The possibilities of exploring the outer "ice giants" is massive. I think, at least. I may not even make the pun because I think the idea of exploring them is so interesting.

    Submarines are designed to handle a test depth of maybe 1600 ft which means maybe 50 bar of pressure. At that pressure, the atmosphere of Uranus is a little below freezing. The gravity is less than Earth. I suspect that with correct ballasting you could make a metal sphere float in the atmosphere for quite some time by keeping the insides pressurized to a convenient atmospheric pressure. So sticking around for a while isn't hard.

    I can't find any good information on the radiation environment there and if you could put humans in the little bubble circling Uranus.. um.. yeah, I lied above.

    • Escape velocity is such that while humans could be landed on Neptune or Uranus they couldn't be lifted off without advanced fusion powered rockets. I don't actually think the giant planets have much potential for us unless we find ways to exploit humungus amounts of mass. Applications like building ringworld and dyson spheres could require that much mass.

      The moons of the giant planets will keep us busy for 1000 years at least.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by v1 (525388)

        The problem isn't somuch the escape velocity required, as it is getting the fuel there. Look how much fuel it takes to get the shuttle out of the atmosphere. Compare that with the weight of the shuttle itself. Now imagine what it would take to launch that much fuel into orbit, if you were going to take it with you and use it to take off from Neptune after you landed.

        Fusion drive probably wouldn't be any more useful there as it is here. Currently the most practical way to orbit is to trade mass at apprec

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by MichaelSmith (789609)

          The atmosphere of Uranus is 83% hydrogen. If we can't turn that into fuel for a fusion reactor then we won't be operating in the atmosphere of that planet. So the planet has plenty of fuel, and fusion power is (as always) 50 years away.

      • by cmowire (254489)

        Actually a nuclear powered rocket will do just fine. Nobody there to get pissed off if you pressurize some of the abundant hydrogen into a tank and run it past a fission reactor.

  • by wizardforce (1005805) on Monday January 25, 2010 @10:55PM (#30899604) Journal

    40 million atmospheres is the kind of pressure that you'd measure under 400 million meters (400,000km) of material at a density of 1 g/cm^3 at a constant 1 g. Uranus and Neptune's gravity field is near 1g give or take and the density is not much more than 1g/cm^3 so the pressure in the core can not be 40 million atmospheres as there isn't ~400,000 km of material sitting above the core. Given that Uranus has a radius of ~25,000 km, density of ~1.27 g/cm^3, surface gravity of 8.7 m/s^2 and that the gravity field drops off roughly linearly with depth, the pressure is probably about a tenth of what TFA says diamond started to melt. Either someone dropped a zero where it didn't belong or Diamond isn't fluid in these planets' cores.

  • by viking80 (697716) on Monday January 25, 2010 @11:00PM (#30899626) Journal

    I wonder why the headline isn't
    Uranus and Neptune May Have "Oceans of melted coal"

    "diamond" is by definition a solid crystalline form of carbon. If you melt it, it is by definition not diamond anymore.

    • by wizardforce (1005805) on Monday January 25, 2010 @11:07PM (#30899680) Journal

      Normally when you try to melt a Diamond, the Diamond converts to graphite first and then melts. When the material freezes again, it isn't Diamond anymore. In the case of the article, the Diamond is under so much pressure that it no longer converts to Graphite before melting. When the liquid freezes again, it isn't Coal but Diamond.

    • by cupantae (1304123)

      What? "Insightful"?
      So viking80 and everyone that modded viking80 didn't think to RTFA. It sets about answering this question right from the offset.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by SpinyNorman (33776)

      Obviously "liquid carbon" is the proper name, but I guess why they are calling it "liquid diamond" is because they are exploring the pressure/temperature region of the phase diagram where it solidifies into diamond (ergo diamond floating in liquid carbon).

      http://dao.mit.edu/8.231/carbon_phase_diagram.jpg [mit.edu]

      I don't get whey they are saying liquid Carbon may exist on Uranus though - the phase diagram indicates a minumum temperature for the liquid phase of 4.5 x 10^3 K, and even the core of Uranus is nowhere near

  • These diamonds aren't "precious". Either they're too far out of our reach and therefore worthless or they're within our reach and they're worthless because there's so many of them. If we could ever make it there and back the diamond market would crash. Not that that would be a bad thing. Debeers needs to have their illegal monopoly crushed by any means necessary.
    • by langelgjm (860756)

      De Beers actually has much less control over the diamond market than they used to... the market is still tightly controlled, but it's not just De Beers anymore.

      But, as long as enough women get sucked in by diamond industry marketing and make receiving a ridiculously priced piece of carbon a condition of getting married, diamond prices will remain high.

    • The cost of something depends on quantity and demand/supply. So if it took 3,000$/kg to mine these diamonds from these gas giants, it wouldn't be profitable to mine enough of them to decrease the overall cost of diamonds below this value. If the supply of Diamond crashes to the point where the demand pushes up the cost of Diamonds enough that mining them from these gas giants is profitable then the price would still be at least what it cost to mine them from these planets. The only way that diamond value

    • by Sir_Lewk (967686)

      The price of the diamonds would still need to cover the price of retrieving them, so until it got cheap and efficient to collect them, they would still be rather expensive.

    • by Shikaku (1129753)

      Diamond is the hardest metal known to man! Imagine a safehouse or a car made of the stuff.

  • Calling it (Score:2, Funny)

    by jimmyhugs (1726026)
    Dibs on Uranus.
  • This is AWESOME!. We'll all be rich! Rich as astronauts! Because, of course, the value that we humans put into diamonds are because of their inherent worth to our quality of life and has nothing to do with the fact that we're a bunch of yahoos. [wikipedia.org].
  • So, how is liquid diamond different from liquid graphite or liquid carbon? It's my understanding that the only difference between graphite and diamond is that the crystalline structure is 2-d in graphite and 3-d in diamond.

    Is it just the fact that at those temperatures and pressures the natural crystals formed from the liquid are diamond?

    • by wagnerrp (1305589)
      Correct. Below 10GPa, carbon freezes into graphite, while above it freezes into a diamond.
  • by argent (18001) <peter AT slashdo ... taronga DOT com> on Monday January 25, 2010 @11:10PM (#30899700) Homepage Journal

    Hal Clement thought too small. Mesklin may be too low pressure for complex life.

    One of the reasons earth is so amenable to life is that ice floats, so the oceans remain deep and liquid. The hydrocarbon oceans of Mesklin would be shallow and cold, a thin layer of liquid ammonia or methane over ices and clathrates. Thus they wouldn't serve as a moderator of temperature and reservoir of life the way Earths oceans have.

    But if life based on crystalline carbon at millions of atmospheres is possible at all, it's all the more possible if the carbon-cycle resembles the water cycle on Earth.

  • That was a very clever trick. NASA won't need to worry about getting the funding to build long-range spacecraft anymore now. Devious...

  • by cprocjr (1237004)
    I really don't find this all that surprising, diamonds aren't even that rare on earth. The only reason they are so expensive is because diamond companies buy them all up and only put very few on the market. However, I have to admit, an iceberg of diamonds would look pretty darn awesome!
  • The Doctor already knew this. But watch out. What they don't mention is that planets with diamond waterfalls also apparently have strange, ethereal aliens that like to play "copycat" and have a thing for possessing lesbian women.
  • by dangitman (862676) on Monday January 25, 2010 @11:27PM (#30899820)
    That's nothing. I know of a planet that is made out of candy and chocolate and ponies. Just step into my vehicle, and I'll show it to you, little girl.
  • It's the SKIES that are made of diamonds.

  • We're going to see rappers really getting into astronomy and space travel now. Only in an attempt to be the first rapper with a diamond pool in one of his videos. Or maybe have a tap with running diamonds in his mansion to one up Dave Chappelle sprinkling diamonds on his dinosaur eggs. Once 106 & Park gets involved in space aeronautics we may actually start seeing videos like this [youtube.com]. You know, to get the kids involved.
  • A C Clarke (Score:4, Informative)

    by rossdee (243626) on Monday January 25, 2010 @11:49PM (#30899974)

    I think it was first mentioned in the book 2010 that Jupiter may have a core of diamond, nd later in the book 2061 an astronomer finds a piece of it (after Jupiter is blown up into a star by the monolith) on Europa.
    So it would not be surprising to find diamond at the core of other gas giants. But so what, we could make diamond here on earth for less energy cost than digging it out of a gas giant and bringing it back to earth.

  • ...DeBeers lobbies congress that the Space Program is a huge waste of money when there are real problems to be solved *here on earth*.

  • What's Unlike Like? (Score:5, Informative)

    by DynaSoar (714234) on Monday January 25, 2010 @11:56PM (#30900024) Journal

    "...unlike Earth, they do not have magnetic poles that match up with their geographical poles."

    Unlike Earth, neither does Earth. The Earth's south magnetic pole is presently about 25.6 degrees from the south pole. Granted, that's not 60 degrees, but apparently neither are theirs since according to TFA the magnetic poles on Uranus and Neptune "can be up to 60 degrees off the north-south axis", it they were, there's be no reason to say "can be".

    There's no note regarding secondary poles on the giant planets like on the sun, but according the Oersted and Magsat satellite data and article in Nature in 2002 (416/8661, pp 620-623) there's an alternate pole developing in the South Atlantic west of South Africa. There's also a geomagnetic anomaly near Lake Baikal in Siberia that causes deflection in the magnetic field measured as far away as Japan, but there's no evidence (or none as yet) that it's a developing "alternate". But one's enough, when it comes to picking apart TFA. Not only is Earth unlike the Earth they compare against while constructing their theory, it's quite capable of being equal to the giants in its unlikeness in the complete absence of diamond seas with or without diamondbergs.

  • by sluke (26350) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @01:31AM (#30900624)

    This is slashdot, so I suppose it should not come as a shock that the summary makes claims that don't stand up to even a casual examination. About 15 seconds on google scholar produces the following paper:

        Correa, A.A. and Bonev, S.A. and Galli, G, Carbon under extreme conditions: Phase boundaries and electronic properties from first-principles theory. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.103, 1204 (2006)
    link to article [pnas.org]

    The second paragraph of the article [nature.com] in Nature Physics (subscription required) that this story is about mentions at least 11 other papers on theoretical calculations and experiments on the melting of diamond. So no, this is not in fact the first time that the melting of diamond has been studied. Indeed, the linked article itself refers to previous experiments at Sandia National Laboratory that melted diamond, but were unable to accurately determine the temperature and pressure.

    This is truly impressive work by some very skilled scientists, but let's discuss it for what it is and not what it isn't.

  • by newgalactic (840363) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @02:02AM (#30900792)
    "Oceans of Diamonds"??? De Beers has that already. Have you ever heard of "Artificial Scarcity"?
  • by tomhudson (43916) <barbara.hudson@ ... a - h u dson.com> on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @02:10AM (#30900816) Journal

    unlike Earth, they do not have magnetic poles that match up with their geographical poles.

    Earth's magnetic poles don't match the geographic poles. They pretty much never have, except by coincidence.

  • by Kleen13 (1006327) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @03:36AM (#30901226)
    Not one fekking word to my wife. I will find you.
  • So? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Hurricane78 (562437) <deleted@slashBLUEdot.org minus berry> on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @05:32AM (#30901726)

    All the “worth” of diamonds is artificial anyway.
    A diamond can easily be made and is worth a few cents. Tops. And it’s even of higher quality than anything nature has to offer.

    The only people who still go “Ooohhh, diamonds!” are either very uninformed, or ignorant retards.

  • by carlhaagen (1021273) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @06:55AM (#30902100)
    ...align with its geographical poles. We were all taught this in 3rd grade. Our magnetic poles wander around the planet all the time, and are pretty far off from the geographical poles. This is called magnetic declination, and is something everyone who has studied basic navigation is well aware of.
  • by GooberToo (74388) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @11:23AM (#30904812)

    From Wikipedia:

    The traditional classification in the West, which goes back to the Ancient Greeks, begins with a distinction between precious and semi-precious stones; similar distinctions are made in other cultures. The precious stones are diamond, ruby, emerald and sapphire, with all other gemstones being semi-precious.[2] This distinction is unscientific and reflects the rarity of the respective stones in ancient times

    That means if diamonds were to be classified today, they would be downgraded from "precious" to "semi-precious". Diamonds are not rare in the least. In fact, all planets are likely to have diamonds. All planets with geological activity, present or in the past, are likely to have diamonds on or near their surface.

    I wish people would understand that the diamond market is completely artificially manipulated. Only industrial diamonds are mostly influenced by basic market supply and demand - but not completely. Diamonds which are used as precious stones have their supply tightly controlled so as to create artificial scarcity. Control on diamonds are so tightly controlled, in some countries (Africa), picking up a diamond without government permission (e.g. DeBeers) may result in execution on the spot. Think about that. If diamonds were so scarce, why would then need to specifically make legal provisions to allow for an extremely rare event of discovering a natural, rough diamond on the ground? Unless of course, they're not rare at all and diamonds really are commonly found simply laying on the ground. And people face execution because an unfeathered supply of diamonds to the market would crash their value over night.

    There are few things in the modern times which have caused more pain, misery, death, and mass slavery than Diamonds and DeBeers. But to be clear, DeBeers is not alone here.

    Few diamonds in the world, contrary to the conflict free marketing, are truly "blood-free", as as much as 60% of the "conflict free" diamonds are actually smuggled from "conflict zones". In other words, over half of every diamond you see in stores is there because of someone's murder, slavery (including children), and illegal imprisonment, torture, so on and so on.

    So remember nothing says I love you like blood, summary executions, and slavery. Its not just a moto, its fact.

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