March 15, 2020 – Diamonds Fell Like Rain

In an opium induced dream, poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge experienced a wonderous place he called Xanadu.  In Citizen Kane, Orson Welles’ character creates a magical paradise he called Xanadu.  However, while the Xanadu of Coleridge was a placid benevolent place, Xanadu in Citizen Kane became a prison for Kane’s wife.  In both the premise is of splendor and luxury without end.  A song written by the Byrds to describe such a state of luxury, Citizen Kane, emphasized the yin and yang of this life.  “Up in Xanadu diamonds fell like rain, Citizen Kane was king, poor Citizen Kane”.  Excess can lead to unexpected results.

Excess pressure, immense pressure, can lead to diamonds (crystalline carbon).  On Earth companies and university labs have equipment able to transform bits of coal into diamonds.  The equipment produces at least 237,000 times atmospheric pressure, required for this transformation.  And the diamonds are little.

Let’s get off Earth and go to Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, or Neptune.  OK, I pick Jupiter.

Jupiter is big, ten Earths can be strung side by side across Jupiter, and massive, with atmospheric pressures approaching 100 million times that of Earth.  So, guess what?  It could be raining diamonds on Jupiter.  The others too.  All four planets have atmospheric pressures millions of times greater than Earth’s.  But, how do they have diamonds?  Where does the carbon come from?

They all have methane gas, liquid, maybe some solid methane as snow in the upper atmosphere.  Methane is CH4, one carbon and 4 hydrogen atoms.  The gas giant planets also have plenty of lightning storms.  When lightning and methane interact, boom!  Lightning breaks the carbon away and it drifts around as a soot-like dust.  Some of it settles into deeper atmosphere where high pressure can turn it into graphite, think pencil leads.  As it settles deeper it can experience forces much greater than a measly 237,000 times Earth’s atmospheric pressure.  Voila! Diamonds as big as 2 centimeters!  All we need is a big scooper…no, wait, it would be crushed into whatever way before hitting the diamond rain.  And that’s only about 6000km (3720 miles) below the cloud tops. It gets deeper.

You would think diamonds are the end.  Not on Jupiter.   No way.  Jupiter apparently does not have a surface like we have on Earth.  It’s gas, gas, gas, liquid, slush, solid?  No one is certain about the conditions near Jupiter’s center, but we do know they’re weird.  Due to immense pressure and heat even hydrogen might solidify into a metal or maybe a slime-like substance.  In any event, those diamonds might be squished into a liquid at about 30,000km (18,600 miles) into Jupiter.  Saturn too, but not Uranus or Neptune.

Diamonds aren’t forever, at least on Jupiter and Saturn.

What’s in the Sky?

March 18; 45 before sunrise; southeast:  A waxing Crescent Moon, Jupiter, and Mars make a pretty sight.

March 19; 10:50 pm CDT; Vernal Equinox = It’s Spring!