Diamonds are one of the only gemstones to be made from one element, carbon. Within space, there is a great wealth of carbon and with the evolution of newer technologies we might be able to mine diamonds in space in the future.
Diamonds and Asteroids
The first indication that this might be possible was due to a meteorite being discovered in Russia in 1886. Diamonds were found at the crash site which lead researchers to believe that diamonds might have origins other than in the earths mantle. The type of asteroid that was discovered is known as a ureilite which is a stoney type of meteorite. Unfortunately for researchers, the origin of this particular type of meteorite is unknown, unlike other meteorites that have been discovered on earth previously. The mineralogical composition of a ureilite meteorites is quite unique made of olivine, achondrite and carbon. The presence of carbon explains why the diamonds were found at the crash site although they were small in diameter, also known as nano-diamonds.
There was a recent study on an asteroid that crashed in the Nubian Desert in Sudan in 2008. This study concluded that the diamonds in the asteroid were bigger before they hit impact. Scientists now believe that there are three main environments in which diamonds can formulate in an asteroid.
- Under a static highly pressured condition within the deep interior of the asteroid (ureilite)
- At a lower pressure through chemical vapor deposition
- Under transient high-pressure environments such as collisions from other asteroids or during planetesimal (aggregated small rock fragments that can form a planet).
Researchers concluded that before the asteroid crashed in the desert in Sudan, larger diamonds had been found in ureilite asteroids. They discovered that the fractures found on the nano-diamonds whilst under microscope could in-fact be fragments of a bigger diamond which shattered upon impact with the earth.
Diamonds and Gas Planets
Gas planets make up half of our solar system. During his research, Marvin Ross observed the structure of both Uranus and Neptune concluding they had a three layer structure. This consisted of an inner rocky layer, a middle layer of ice and fluid and an outer layer of hydrogen-helium. He exclaimed that the planets were in fact made of 10% carbon, which as we know is the element that forms into diamonds. In 1981 shock wave experiments were carried out and it implied that the ice middle layer had been ionised and the methane had been pyrolysed to carbon, potentially in the diamond form. To support their findings, they also did experiments on the temperature of diamonds and carbon to find out their melting point.
Uranus and Neptune are not the only gas planets in our solar system thought to be diamond producers. In 2013, researched claimed that there might be as much as 10 millions tons of diamond stored in Saturn and Jupiter. Using shock wave experiments once again which lead them to believe that diamond might be a stable layer within these two gas giants. During a study of lightening storms they hypothesised that methane (CH4) would dissociate into soot particles during the storm which would then settle to form graphite and finally diamond.
Discovering A Diamond Planet
In 2004 the Harvard Centre for Astrophysics estimated that the planet BPM 37093- also known as Lucy, is the biggest diamond ever found. Lucy is a white dwarf located 50 light years away. A white dwarf is the hot core of a star which is left over once the star has died by using up its nuclear fuel. It is made mostly of carbon coated in a thin layer of helium and hydrogen gases. Since the 1960’s, astronomers predicted that white dwarfs would crystallise as they cooled down over a period of a billion years. It was only in 2004 that researchers predicted that Lucy was in fact 90% crystallised.
Our own sun will eventually form into a white dwarf in five billion years and will also crystallise as the star cools down. This means that the core of our solar system will end up being a giant diamond. The research that has been done is not enough evidence to transfer into facts as although it may be a diamond it might not be of gem quality.
Mining Diamonds in Space
If the previous research ends up being proven right then the way we mine diamonds will change in the future. There are developments of new space mining companies which are growing and starting to gain in investments. This means that they will be set up in the future not only to mine diamonds in space, but to create the technology to make this resource available. Mining near by planets, exoplanets such as 55 Cancrie is not currently an option as it is 41 light years away so it would take a very very long time to get there. Although travelling to planets might not be the immediate option, we do have a selection of asteroids which are currently orbiting the sun. 75% of these asteroids are made from carbon which is a good sign in terms of diamond formation.
In 2013, NASA began producing a program called ARM. The purpose of this program is to catch asteroids and bring them into the orbit of the moon. This way astronauts can work on them and potentially mine any diamonds found. Mining such resources would be highly beneficial to us on earth, maximising our resources with certain materials. Now it is just waiting to see of we can produce the technology to be able to mine future gas giants and asteroid alike, resulting in a diamond rush.
If you are interested in diamonds then we have a selection diamond jewellery available on our website or in store. If you have any questions then you can contact us online or visit our jewellery store based on the Kenilworth high street.