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‘Diamond’ planets more common than thought before, scientists say

Published time: May 18, 2014 11:51
An artist's impression shows a unique type of exoplanet discovered with the Hubble Space Telescope. (Reuters/NASA)

An artist's impression shows a unique type of exoplanet discovered with the Hubble Space Telescope. (Reuters/NASA)

Carbon-rich planets containing big deposits of diamonds and graphite could turn out to be more common than previously thought, Yale astronomers discovered. The findings trigger a debate on how the carbon environments impact climate, geology and life.

“Despite the relatively small amount of carbon on Earth, carbon has been critical for the emergence of life and the regulation of our climate through the carbon-silicate cycle,” Yale doctoral candidate, John Moriarty, told YaleNews.

“It’s an open question as to how carbon-rich chemistry will affect the habitability of exoplanets. We hope our findings will spark interest in research to help answer these questions,” Moriarty added.

Exoplanets are planets located outside Earth’s solar system. There are more than 1,000 confirmed exoplanets and more than 3,000 so-called “candidates.” It is generally considered that rocky exoplanets are composed, as Earth is, mostly of iron, oxygen, magnesium and silicon, with only a small fraction of carbon.

The new study has developed an advanced method of evaluating exoplanet composition: while previous models were founded on static snapshots of the gaseous pools (or disks) in which planets form, the new one focuses on the changes in the composition of the disk as it ages.

So, the scientists came to the conclusion that in disks with carbon-oxygen ratios greater than 0.8, carbon-rich planets can form farther from the center of the disk than previously thought. Plus, carbon-rich planets can form in disks with a carbon-oxygen ratio as low as 0.65, if those planets form close to their host star, YaleNews reported.

“An important question is whether or not our Earth is a typical rocky planet,” said professor Debra Fischer who participated in the study.

“Despite the growing number of exoplanet discoveries, we still don't have an answer to this question. This work further expands the range of factors that may bear on the habitability of other worlds,” she added.

John Moriarty led the research, which has recently been published in the Astrophysical Journal under the title “Chemistry in an evolving protoplanetary disk: Effects on terrestrial planet composition.”

Along with Moriarty, Yale astronomy professor Debra Fischer and Nikku Madhusudhan, a former Yale postdoctoral researcher now at Cambridge University, participated in the study.

"Our study shows that extraterrestrial worlds can be extremely diverse in their chemical compositions, including many that are drastically different from our earthly experience," Madhusudhan said.

The latest finding is not by any means the first one: in October 2012, the previously mentioned Indian astronomer, Nikku Madhusudhan, published a paper arguing that 55 Cancri e, a rocky exoplanet twice Earth’s size, is likely to be covered in diamond and graphite.

Comments (6)


Richard Mccarty 19.05.2014 13:13

All this worry about these places it would take lifetimes to get to. Can't even fix our own planet. BS!


Ken O'Neill 18.05.2014 22:07

Apparently they have detected life on them too, bipedal creatures with huge noses and mutilated genitalia.


seb o 18.05.2014 20:55

Can not wait for the day humanity will wake up from this dormant phase of evolution. Are we that stupid that we can not realise we should live in peace on earth and it would be in everyones interest if we mine uninhabited planets and bring the resources back for all of humanity to use.

We should stop spending money on killing machines to kill humans wage war and we should invest in space exploration and advanced technology for the profit of the human race.

The main reason governments hide evidence of extra terrestrial life is to make sure we do not band together, because for the elite that would not be profitable.

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