Super-Earth Planet Likely Made of Diamond
Move over, Hope Diamond. The most famous gems on Earth have new competition in the form of a planet made largely of diamond, astronomers say.
Illustration: the interior of 55 Cancri e — an extremely hot planet with a surface of mostly graphite surrounding a thick layer of diamond, below which is a layer of silicon-based minerals and a molten iron core at the center. Credit: Haven Giguere
The alien planet, a so-called “super-Earth,” is called 55 Cancri e and was discovered in 2004 around a nearby star in our Milky Way galaxy. After estimating the planet’s mass and radius, and studying its host star’s composition, scientists now say the rocky world is composed mainly of carbon (in the form of diamond and graphite), as well as iron, silicon carbide, and potentially silicates.
At least a third of the planet’s mass is likely pure diamond.
“This is our first glimpse of a rocky world with a fundamentally different chemistry from Earth,” lead researcher Nikku Madhusudhan of Yale University said in a statement. “The surface of this planet is likely covered in graphite and diamond rather than water and granite.”
55 Cancri e is the first likely “diamond planet” to be identified around a sun-like star, though such worlds have been theorized before. Planets like this are vastly different from our Earth, which has relatively little carbon.
“By contrast, Earth’s interior is rich in oxygen, but extremely poor in carbon — less than a part in thousand by mass,” said study co-author and Yale geophysicist Kanani Lee.
55 Cancri e is what’s known as a super-Earth, with a radius twice as wide as that of our own planet, and a mass eight times greater. It speeds around its host star, making a full orbit in just 18 hours (Earth takes 365 days). It is so close in to the star that its surface temperature reaches a scorching 3,900 degrees Fahrenheit (2,100 degrees Celsius), making it probably way too hot for life.