Jupiter and Saturn could be stuffed with diamonds

It seems that astronomers been making lots of noise about going to Jupiter (or at least Europa) in recent months. Probes, satellites, and even one very doomed manned mission are being aimed at the gas giant. We're not saying they're all part of some sort of gold rush of the future or anything, but shoot — there's diamonds in them thar planets! If you were to hop into your purpose-made private spacecraft and go shooting off to the big red spot, you'd likely only find about ten million tons of the precious stones swimming about in the gaseous atmospheres of both Jupiter and Saturn. No big deal.

A recent study, co-authored by University of Wisconsin–Madison's Kevin Baines, showed that both of our solar system's largest gas giants are home to conditions favorable to the creation of solid diamonds. The way these diamonds are created, however, just might preclude humans from ever getting our hands on the precious stones (we told you not to start packing just yet).

Massive lightning storms which cut across the gas giants' atmosphere, posit Baines and his co-authors, begin the process by shredding methane molecules into carbon. This carbon, in the form of soot, then begins to sink deeper into the gaseous layers of the planet, where it is exposed to higher pressures. First converted into graphite, these bits of soot are eventually exposed to pressures strong enough to compress them into solid diamonds. This theory, along with a bit of math, has led Baines to one heck of a conclusion:

"This creates about a thousand tons of diamonds per year, and I estimate that in the 30,000-kilometer-thick diamond-containing layer, there are about 10 million tons of diamonds formed in this manner." — Kevin Baines

So if you're still scrambling for that pickax and mine cart, heed this final warning: even if your space prospecting ship is capable of somehow surviving Jupiter's outer layers, don't venture too far into the planet. Below the layers at which diamonds are created, Jupiter and Saturn likely play host to an even more amazing sight: liquid diamond seas. In these deep recesses of the gas giants, temperatures are higher than 8,000 degrees Kelvin: That's the temperature at which a diamond melts, and well after the point at which your face would, spaceship or no spaceship. Happy prospecting, future diamond hunters.

AAS, via National Geographic

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