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Saturn's blings: Diamonds may float in the planet's atmosphere

Researchers believe diamond rain and hail are present on Jupiter and Saturn, and that future generations could send robots to harvest such precious precipitation.

Eric Mack Contributing Editor
Eric Mack has been a CNET contributor since 2011. Eric and his family live 100% energy and water independent on his off-grid compound in the New Mexico desert. Eric uses his passion for writing about energy, renewables, science and climate to bring educational content to life on topics around the solar panel and deregulated energy industries. Eric helps consumers by demystifying solar, battery, renewable energy, energy choice concepts, and also reviews solar installers. Previously, Eric covered space, science, climate change and all things futuristic. His encrypted email for tips is ericcmack@protonmail.com.
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Eric Mack
2 min read
Diamonds are plentiful in space, and could even be a form of psuedo-precipitation on Saturn and Jupiter. NASA / JPL-Caltech

One day in the future, it may take more than an ordinary Earth diamond to impress your sweetheart, especially when the truly elite show their love with precious gems plucked from the atmosphere of Saturn or Jupiter.

Given the fact that diamonds are known to be created by the extreme heat and pressure present in the Earth's mantle -- and perhaps in the hands of certain superheroes -- some have wondered whether the high pressures found in the atmospheres of the gas giants could also be creating mad bling.

Mona Delitsky of California Specialty Engineering in Flintridge, along with Kevin Baines of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, say they believe it is possible that such atmospheric diamond factories do exist in our solar system. They laid out their argument earlier this month at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society's Division for Planetary Sciences in Denver.

Essentially, the hypothesis goes, lightning in the upper atmospheres of Jupiter and Saturn separates carbon atoms from molecules of methane, which then stick to each other, forming particles of carbon soot. The soot drifts down through more dense layers of hydrogen gas and liquids, getting exposed to higher pressures and temperatures as it gets closer to the planets' rocky cores. These conditions compress the soot into graphite, then into diamonds, which then melt into diamond raindrops when they reach temperatures of 8,000 degrees Celsius.

Some other scientists dispute the findings of Delitsky and Baines. But if they turn out to be correct, Baines says, it could be possible to park a robot at a certain range within Saturn's atmosphere where it would basically float around and collect what amounts to diamond "hail."

The authors even went so far as to write a chapter of companion science fiction that imagines a universe set in the year 2469, where diamonds from Saturn are converted into hulls for mining ships that voyage deep into the planet to collect the elements of a clean-burning fusion fuel. They also imagine that the extraplanetary gems would need to be banned from possible exporting to protect a meltdown of Earth's economy.

Good to know that at least someone is looking out for the 25th century economy.