Scientists have just discovered a strange new world that may just be every girl’s new best friend: a dead star that could be about of pure diamond. The amazing discovery was announced a few days ago and has created a mini web buzz in its wake. After all, how can it be possible for a burned-out stellar core the size of Earth to be pure diamond?
Well, read on.
As for how a stellar core the size of Earth could wind up becoming pure diamond, it all has to do with stellar evolution.
In a star, there is a constant battle going on between the force of gravity, which seeks to collapse the star, and that of nuclear fusion (fusing 2 hydrogen atoms into one helium atom), which wants to expand it. When the forces balance, the star is at equilibrium, as our Sun is today. When the hydrogen runs out, fusion stops and the start starts to collapse but, with the pressure of collapse comes enough heat to start fusing the helium. This process of fusing heavy elements continues until Iron becomes the dominant element.
Problem: Iron can’t be fused into anything heavier because the fusion of iron results in a net loss of energy, which is not something that can occur naturally. Result: the star burns out as fusion has now stopped. Thanks to its low gravity, the outer layers of the atmosphere puff off into space, producing so-called “planetary” nebulae. As for the rest, it contracts into what is called a white dwarf, which can continue to glow like a cosmic ember for billions of years until it eventually goes cool as all remaining heat is lost to space.
For this diamond stellar core, this is the stage it has reached in its evolution. According to scientists, the carbon core has now become so cold that it has probably crystallized into a giant diamond.
Talk about a girl’s best friend!
On Earth, diamonds form deep within the planet (about 100 miles down) in the upper mantle. This deep down, the Earth is very hot and the pressure is extremely high thanks to the weight of all the material pressing down on the diamond forming region. On Earth,it is the combination of high temperature and high pressure that causes carbon atoms to bond together and form diamond crystals.
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