Diamonds on Jupiter and Saturn
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A team of planetary scientists recently claimed that the mix of methane, carbon and lightning in Saturn's atmosphere is causing diamonds to be forged in the planet's atmosphere. These diamonds would be around a centimetre in diameter, but could range in size based on the availability of carbon at the time of the diamond's formation. The new study estimates that there are more than 1,000 tons of diamonds being created every year on Saturn. Mona Delitsky of California Speciality Engineering in Flintridge, and Kevin Baines of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, claimed that it is possible. Saturn's atmosphere is mostly made up of hydrogen & methane, but when storms crop up, the lightning fries the methane, producing pure hydrogen and burnt carbon, a.k.a. soot. As the clouds of soot fall towards the planet, they clump together forming graphite, and as the pressure builds up closer to the planet's core, that graphite is compressed into pure diamond, thus literally raining diamonds on Saturn. The scientists think the same thing might be happening on Jupiter too. Both scientist laying out their argument at American Astronomical Society's annual meetings in Division for Planetary Sciences in Denver, Colorado.
- Rough diamond
The idea that there is a depth range within the atmospheres of Jupiter and Saturn within which carbon would be stable as diamond does seem sensible. says Professor Raymond Jeanloz, one of the member of the team who first predicted diamonds on Uranus and Neptune.
And given the large sizes of these planets, the amount of carbon (therefore diamond) that may be present is hardly negligible.
Dr Nadine Nettelmann, of the University of California, Santa Cruz, said further more work was needed to understand whether carbon can form diamonds in an atmosphere which is rich in hydrogen and helium such as Saturn's
In their scenario, lightning zaps molecules of methane in the upper atmospheres of Saturn and Jupiter, liberating carbon atoms. These atoms then stick onto each other, forming larger particles of carbon soot, which the Cassini spacecraft may have spotted in dark storm clouds on Saturn. As the soot particles slowly float down through ever-denser layers of gaseous and liquid hydrogen towards the planets rocky cores, they experience ever greater pressures and temperatures. The soot is compressed into graphite, & then into solid diamonds before reaching a temperature of about 8,000 °C, when the diamond melts, forming liquid diamond raindrops. That diamond rain that forms on both planets is based on the methane levels and the high temperatures needed to form diamonds on both planets, which form at 3650 degrees Fahrenheit.
People ask me - how can you really tell? It all boils down to the chemistry. And we think we're pretty certain.
Dr Kevin BainesUniversity of Wisconsin–Madison
A Different Belief and Theory
It is possible that diamonds exist on Saturn and Jupiter on the basis of a different prior theory by Reginald B. Little. In 2000-03, Little previously proposed (2000) and demonstrated (2003). that a strong magnetic field can organize diamonds at lower temperatures and pressures relative to the higher pressure and temperatures formations from amorphous carbon and/or graphite. In 2005, Little realized that lightning could also provide such a magnetic field to directly transform graphite and soot to diamond and Reginald Little experimentally observed Nanodiamonds form from terrestrial lightning bolts upon solid carbon in 2009. Therefore on the basis of his prior work, Reginald Little reasoned in 2013 that diamond particles can form and exist in the lightning storms and clouds on Saturn and Jupiter but by the direct cloud transformation of carbon soot to small diamond particles by lightning strikes in such clouds. As Baines and Delitsky report here in 2013, the lightning striking methane generates carbon soot in clouds on Saturn and Jupiter, but Little asserts that the diamonds form not from the soot sinking into the core of these planets but by subsequent lightning strikes on the generated soot carbon in the clouds. Therefore, Little suggests that the lightning directly transforms the soot to small diamond particles in the clouds with such diamonds in the clouds sticking together and falling as diamond hail. As the diamond hail falls it is chemically etched by the hydrogen in these planets under higher pressure and temperatures to reform methane gas. The resulting methane gas rises back to reform clouds to create a cycle of hydrogen-methane cloud forming diamond hail at higher elevations (by lightning) and the resulting diamond hail reforming hydrogen methane as it (the diamond) falls to lower elevations by temperatures for a diamond-hydrogen to methane cycle on these planets of similarity and analog to water-steam-ice cycle in thunderstorms on earth. Such a cycle is important on these planets of Saturn and Jupiter to explain the prevailing presence of methane in their atmospheres. If the methane as by Baines and Delitsky is irreversibly converted to soot and to graphite at lower elevation and irreversibly to diamond at even lower elevations in Saturn and Jupiter then the atmospheres would be completely stripped of methane which is inconsistent with the persisting hydrogen, methane ammonia clouds of these planets. But unlike Baines and Delitsky prior theory of diamond forming toward the interior of these planets as the soot falls (2013), Reginald Little asserts that the diamond forms in the clouds directly from frequent lightning striking the soot in the clouds. Reginald Little in 2005 also proposed that lightning striking Kimberlites on earth may explain diamond in certain Kimberlitic rocks relative to non producing Kimberlitic rock on earth. Reginald Little correlated the most producing Kimberlitic rock with regions on the earth with the highest yearly frequency cloud to ground lightning central to southern Africa. Prior to the birth of science, over thousands of years ago some ancient people in India believed that diamonds form by lightning striking rock but this belief was non scientific as there was no elemental basis for diamond and they believed granite would form diamond as well as slates, phyllites, mylonite, jade, marble, soapstone, and serpentine. The true theory and prediction came with Reginald Little in 2000. As only Carbonaceous rock perhaps with some iron only form diamond when struck by lightning. Extending this theory to other planets of Saturn and Jupiter as inspired by Baines and Delitsky, rather naturally and beautifully reasons direct transformation of soot to diamond by lightning at high elevation in the clouds of Saturn and Jupiter is not subject to thermodynamics of chemically etching of diamond and mixing in the interior of the planets. As at higher elevations in the clouds of these planets the temperature is very low so such thermodynamic mixing is infeasible but the thermal quenching of the lightning transformed diamond is feasible. This model and mechanism of Reginald Little is also not subject to the low methane concentration argument. as the carbon is concentrated in the form of soot from initial low methane concentrations by prior lightning strikes. So very frequent lightning strikes and severe lightning storms in these planets tend to support. Reginald Little diamond cloud theory in Saturn and Jupiter.!
Computational work of Yakobson and others published on January 17, 2014 supports this theory of lightning directly forming diamond from the soot and nanographite; as Yakobson et al. have subsequently shown that few layer graphene from such lightning strikes can be subsequently converted directly to diamond at low pressure as in the storm clouds of the upper atmospheres of Saturn and Jupiter from even the heat (and the magnetic field as by RBL) of subsequent lightning strikes atomizing hydrogen (the major component of the atmospheres of these planets) and hydrogen atoms attaching to few layer graphene edges near the bolts to transform the few layer graphene to thin diamond without the need for the graphene to fall deep into the interior of Saturn and Jupiter for high pressures to convert the graphite to diamond by what Yakobson notes "chemically induced phase transition". The heat and hydrogen may allow nucleating thin nanodiamond from thin few layer graphene, but the magnetic fields of the lightning are important for stabilizing formation of larger diamond during such processes beyond the nanosize and thinnest. The easy of suspension of few layer graphene in such upper clouds in these planets and the nice electrical conduction path by such suspended graphene for subsequent multiple lightning strikes through the suspended graphene give more feasibility to this direct lightning driven diamond formation theory in the hydrogen atmospheres of Saturn and Jupiter as initially expressed by RBL.;
Direct experimental evidence of the validity of RBL theory of electric current induced nucleation of diamond as by lightning striking amourphous carbon and graphite has been observed by Yacobson on May 15, 2014  wherein Yakobson and others observe the nucleation of diamond in anthacitic coal if functionalized by hydrocarbons under the exposure to the electron beam within a transmission electron microscope. Such high-voltage, electron bombardment of the anthacite in the presence of hydrogen in Yakobson's system closely mimics the conditions of electrons of lightning striking soot in hydrogen atmospheres in the upper atmospheres of Saturn and Jupiter. The validity of RBL's proposal that the lightning strike can directly transform the soot in the hydrogenous upper atmosphere to diamond without the need to fall into the high pressure interiors of Jupiter ad Saturn is thereby proven!
But others dispute the researchers' claim, arguing that these two gas giants of the Solar System are probably devoid of bling. David Stevenson, a planetary scientist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, says the pair did not properly account for thermodynamics. Methane forms a very small fraction of the mostly hydrogen atmospheres of Jupiter and Saturn – 0.2% and 0.5%, respectively. In such dilute systems, thermodynamics favours mixtures, says Stevenson. "It's the same thermodynamics that explains why a small amount of sugar or salt will dissolve in a large amount of water, especially at high temperature," he says. "Even if you made carbon dust, it would just dissolve as it went down into the interior very very quickly“.
Luca Ghiringhelli a physicist at the Fritz Haber Institute in Berlin, Germany, is also sceptical of the pair's conclusions. His own previous research showed that the concentration of carbon is not high enough in Uranus and Neptune which are several times richer in carbon than Jupiter and Saturn to grow diamond from the 'ground up' building the crystals atom by atom. He did not model whether diamond could instead form by the compression of soot, but says it is premature to assume that would do so. "It is very optimistic to drive conclusions on the existence of diamonds on Saturn from the scarce data we have, and without a convincing model," he says. That may give financial regulators one less thing to worry about in the coming centuries.
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