Monday, August 29, 2011

Diamond planet





I wish that Arthur C. Clarke had lived to see this.

In his book, 2061, a novel that I have made reference to before, Mount Zeus on Europa is one enormous diamond.  Now, astronomers have discovered a planet composed entirely of diamond.
The planet orbits around pulsar PSR J1719-1438 in the Serpens constellation of space and is thought to have been formed in the heart of a dead star.  Once the star lost 99% of its mass through nova and ceased fusion reaction, it became a planet...a white dwarf star...about five times the size of Earth.  The nova remnant was subjected to such intense gravity and pressure that it was compressed into diamond.  It's thought to have a density about 18 times that of water.  Wow.  Clarke had postulated the existence of such planets before but this is the first time astronomers have actually seen one.  If someone had told me a planet made of diamond would be found, I would have relegated the notion to the realm of fiction.  I think this bears out that old Einstein chestnut: the universe is not only stranger than we imagine, it’s stranger than we can imagine.  Names for the diamond planet are already being proposed, ranging from "Lucy"...an obvious Beatles reference...to "Midnight," the name of a diamond planet from an episode of Doctor Who.
An interesting aside to this discovery is that astronomers believe there are probably other planets orbiting pulsars out there.  I wouldn't have thought this possible, given the issues of gravity, but they're out there.  They might not all be diamonds but then you can't have everything now can you?

In other news, another article appeared about how astronomers have observed a star being consumed by a black hole.  The Swift observatory detected enormous bursts of radiation from a star in the constellation of Draco.  Two more bursts followed the next day.  Astronomers analyzing the data found the levels of energy detected to be too high even for a supernova.  The most logical conclusion left was a star ripped apart by the gravitational force of a black hole and jets of radiation flounced out as a result. 
So the data collected amounts to a stellar Zapruder film?  Is that what we’re saying?


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