for National Geographic News
Published October 11, 2012
The universe just got a bit richer with the discovery of an apparent diamond-rich planet orbiting a nearby star. (click links for videos)
Dubbed 55 Cancri e, the rocky world is only twice the size of Earth but has eight times its mass—classifying it as a "super Earth," a new study says. First detected crossing in front of its parent star in 2011, the close-in planet orbits its star in only 18 hours. As a result, surface temperatures reach an uninhabitable 3,900 degrees Fahrenheit (2,150 degrees Celsius)—which, along with carbon, make perfect conditions for creating diamonds.
NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope collected data on the planet's orbital distance and mass, and resulting computer models created a picture of 55 Cancri e's chemical makeup.
"Science fiction has dreamed of diamond planets for many years, so it's amazing that we finally have evidence of its existence in the real universe," said study leader Nikku Madhusudhan, a postdoctoral researcher at Yale University.
"It's the first time we know of such an exotic planet that we think was born mostly of carbon—which really makes this a fundamental game-changer in our understanding of what's possible in planetary chemistry."
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