In a bid to better understand the conditions in the core of giant and carbon-rich planets such as Jupiter and Saturn, scientists used the earth's most powerful laser to crush diamond, the hardest material found in nature, to extreme pressure.
With the experiment, scientists were able to stimulate the pressure found at the core of Jupiter and Saturn. Based on chemical modeling, it is believed that the pressure found inside these planets could create diamonds and it is with the experiment that such pressure is replicated on earth to determine the possibility of this theory.
Ray Smith, from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, said that the initial goal of the project, which they have achieved, is to replicate the conditions of planetary cores using extremely high pressure and low temperature so as to be relevant to giant planets that are composed primarily of gas.
In a study published in the journal Nature on July 16, Smith and colleagues described how they crushed a tiny sliver of diamond using the world's most powerful laser system with the expectation that this would produce weird states of matter.
"Our experiments provide a method for recreating conditions within the cores of giant gas planets - both within our solar system and beyond," Smith said. "It has been proposed, for example, that Neptune has a diamond in its core, due to decomposition of methane which gets compacted under extreme pressure."
For the experiment, which took place at the National Ignition Facility in Livermore, the researchers exposed a tiny diamond sliver that measured 3 millimeters by 0.2 of a millimeter to the combined energy of 176 lasers to compress it to 50 million atmospheres, or the equivalent of the pressure at the core of Saturn. Compared with the atmospheric pressure found at the center of Saturn, the Earth's iron core has 3.6 million times atmospheric pressure.
The researchers reported that the pressure exerted on the diamond, the hardest and least compressible material on earth, compressed it to the density of lead.
"Diamond - the least compressible material known, has here been compressed to an unprecedented density - more than that of lead," the researchers wrote.
Nikku Madhusudhan, from the University of Cambridge, said that the results of the experiment could provide a better understanding on what's inside the so called diamond planets.
"The present result is extremely valuable, because we can now use direct experimental data to model the deep interiors of carbon-rich planets," Madhusudhan said.