Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Cosmic Diamond: The Universe’s Largest Uncut Diamond?

It might be the ultimate jeweler’s dream here on planet Earth to work on such sized stone, but is the cosmic diamond the Universe’s largest uncut piece of diamond? 

Given that diamonds are just an allotropic form of low impurity carbon whose atoms are arranged differently than ordinary carbon that makes them one of the hardest naturally formed materials, are there conditions elsewhere in the cosmos that would allow the creation of the Universe’s largest chunk of uncut diamond? Fortunately, there is such a place. 

These are called cosmic diamonds and astrophysicists had long theorized their existence since humanity had figured out the working principles behind how stars work and how they are created, live out their lives and eventually die. Cosmic diamonds are an ultra compressed crystal of carbon believed to lie in the core of a white dwarf star as an end product that resulted after a main-sequence star’s helium burning phase. It is a whole, uncut diamond – likely spherical in shape – and could be thousands of miles in diameter, easily making it one of the largest uncut pieces of diamonds in the Universe. Given the physical conditions we currently know that prevail in the core of white dwarf stars, cosmic diamonds could have a wholly different atomic and molecular structure in comparison to the diamonds we are familiar with that are formed by planet Earth’s geological processes. 

Despite the financial and scientific interests fueling our curiosity of cosmic diamonds, at present, we can only study them from afar via our sensitive astronomical spectroscopic instruments because on average, the nearest white dwarf stars are tens to hundreds of light-years away from us. And given out current space travel technology, we won’t be able to reach one and make a sample return mission using robotic spacecraft within a practical human timescale. A round-trip mission to Alpha Centauri using our current space travel technology could take at least a little over 1-million years for a sample return mission.