Scientists have long theorized that the icy giant planet Uranus could have diamond rain showers due to the immense pressure in its atmosphere but none have actually come close to confirming the idea since mimicking the harsh conditions of the planet is necessary.
A team of researchers, however, has recreated the atmospheric conditions of Uranus at Stanford University's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and successfully observed a rain of tiny diamonds.
"Previously, researchers could only assume that the diamonds had formed. When I saw the results of this latest experiment, it was one of the best moments of my scientific career," lead author Dominik Kraus from the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf expressed.
Several experiments have already been done to confirm the theory; however, previous observations failed to achieve success because researchers could not observe the results in real-time, which is a necessary part of the monitoring process.
Observing Diamond Showers
In order to test the theory, the team used polystyrene and the high-powered optical lasers in the SLAC Laboratory.
The polystyrene was chosen as an integral part of the experiment since its hydrogen and carbon compound mix is similar to the planet's own chemical composition.
Then the team needed a machine that could simulate the intense temperature and pressure in Uranus, so they turned their attention to the most powerful X-ray laser in the world: the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS).
The LCLS provided the two intense shock waves needed to allow the polystyrene to change its structure.
"You need these intense, fast pulses of X-rays to unambiguously see the structure of these diamonds, because they are only formed in the laboratory for such a very short time," co-author Siegfried Glenzer explained. Glenzer is also a professor of photon science at SLAC.
According to the scientists, the peak intensity of the pressure happens when the two shock waves overlap, and this is also the fastest and necessary part of the process that the team needed to observe.
This is because, when the pressure peaks, it alters the structure of the polystyrene to form nanometer-sized diamonds in a matter of femtoseconds, which is actually one quadrillionth of a second.
The researchers say that, considering its size, the diamond rains in Uranus are probably giants reaching up to a few million carats in size. However, there are also two things to consider with ice giant diamonds: the first is that it probably has impurities, and the second is that they're not cut and polished.
They also predict that the diamonds could either sink in the planet's layers to melt at the core, forming underground melted diamond seas, or remain solid but form a layer around the core. Most models suggest the latter but not even scientists can say for sure what happens based solely on simulations.