It Might Rain Diamonds on Jupiter

Take some methane, add lightning and massive pressures, and what do you get? Diamond hail

NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Here’s a fun question to ask: “If I were standing on the surface of Jupiter, what would it look like?” Luckily for you Jupiter doesn’t have a surface for you to stand on. Because if it did, you’d probably be getting smashed in the face by diamonds.

Jupiter’s atmosphere is mostly made of hydrogen and helium gases, but it’s also populated by a liberal sprinkling of other compounds like ammonia and methane. Zapped by lightning and crushed by the intense pressure, this methane may form diamond hail in Jupiter’s atmosphere. At even deeper depths into the clouded sky, the diamonds may turn to rain—liquid diamond falling through the sky.

Diamond rain is just an idea, says Nature, laid out by two researchers, Mona Delitsky and Kevin Baines, at a meeting for astronomers this week, though their hypothesis is loosely supported by observations made by NASA’s Cassini satellite. They think a similar process could also take place on Saturn. Though, because Saturn is smaller than Jupiter and hence the pressures don’t get quite so crazy, Saturn’s diamond precipitation stalls out at the hail phase.

Whether or not the gas giants are basically huge diamond factories hinges, says Nature, on whether the concentration of methane in the planets’ atmospheres is high enough.

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