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Are there diamonds in Jupiter and Saturn's skies?

It's possible that diamonds could stud not just the metaphorical skies touted in pop songs, but Saturn and Jupiter's skies, as well

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So it could be raining diamonds. But for how long could those diamonds last? How far could those diamonds seep down through the atmosphere before mounting pressure melts them into liquid carbon?

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The researchers’ work is a based on a European team's 2011 paper that fine tunes the melting point of diamond to account for the interplay of temperature and pressure: that paper put the isotope’s melting point at 500 gigapascals to be 13,940 degrees Fahrenheit. Based on this number, the team suggests that diamond could remain stable well into both planets’ atmospheres, existing possibly as a layer, the authors said.  

“There may be diamond rain or diamond oceans sitting as a layer” on Saturn and Jupiter, the authors wrote (there is no such thing, though, as a “diamond ocean” – melted diamond is liquid carbon).

As the diamonds near the cores of the planets, though, they do begin to melt. In its interior, Saturn could have some regions capable of entertaining stable diamond reserves, while other regions would be hot and pressurized enough to melt the gem into liquid, the researchers said. Jupiter’s super hot and extremely pressurized interior would contain just liquid carbon, no diamonds, they said.

“It appears that diamonds are forever on Uranus and Neptune but not on Jupiter and Saturn,” the authors of the new paper wrote.

It has been proposed since at least 1981, in Marvin Ross's paper called “The ice layer in Uranus and Neptune—diamonds in the sky?,” that both Uranus and Neptune boast treasure troves of diamonds. Both of the planets, which are thought to have three layers, are believed to keep the jewels in their middle “ice” layers.

Jon Eggert, a researcher at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California who was not involved in the research, said that it is “highly likely” that Jupiter and Saturn’s methane could convert to carbon and that the planets’ could have liquid carbon in their cores. Dr. Eggert is an author on a 2010 paper, published in Nature, proposing that diamond could remain stable even at the cores of the seventh and eight planets, based on work modeling the theoretical phase changes of carbon.

But to comment on if and where carbon could exist in diamond form on Jupiter and Saturn, Eggert said would need to see more specifics on the numbers the team used to draw their conclusion, once the paper is published. He also said that he would need to see more evidence supporting the conclusion that diamond might form a layer on the planets, rather than continuing to fall toward the core.

“It that’s true, that would be a big deal,” says Eggert, noting that such a layer would fundamentally change current understanding of the processes, such as temperature flow, within Saturn.


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