Like a Diamond in the Sky
By: John Shepler
"Twinkle, twinkle, little star. How I wonder what you are." Ever since we first toddled outside to gaze up at the black canopy of twinkling pinpoints, we've held that thought in the back of our minds. Pick a clear dry night in the woods, the desert or on the ocean and the beauty of the cosmos overhead is enough to take your breath away. So many stars, and so magnificent.
"Up above the world so high. Like a diamond in the sky." We love that nursery rhyme. But stars are nuclear furnaces, we were taught. It's all about hydrogen fusing into helium a trillion, trillion miles away. They're not pinpricks in a velvet cover, beyond which is the radiance of heaven itself. No, stars are more like gas light bulbs, immense bodies on fire since before there were humans or even animals. It is just our imaginations and the optical illusion of ancient photons being jostled by atmospheric ripples that make them look like diamonds twinkling in the sky.
But what if that's not so? What if man's puny grasp of the universe has limited our expectations far short of what really awaits us in the distant void? What if the wonders of our imagination are just a hint of all things possible? What if there really ARE diamonds in the sky?
Astronomer Steve Kawaler believes he has spotted a blue green diamond the size of Earth and just seventeen light years away, almost on our doorstep in astronomical terms. From the constellation Centaurus, it is sending out a spectrum of light similar to a diamond's fire. That light is being picked up and analyzed by a network of telescopes in New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Brazil, Chile and the Hubble Space Telescope orbiting the Earth. Can this be true?
Diamond stars may well be scientifically possible, maybe even common. Remember how you were taught that when stars use up their supply of hydrogen fuel, they either self-destruct in a massive super nova explosion or shrink into tiny white dwarfs? If the solar furnace could be thought to be like a coal furnace, then the fizzled white dwarf was supposed to be nothing more than a stellar cinder littering space. Kawaler's theory is that the heavier elements created by solar fusion over the millennia condense and solidify in the center of the shrinking star. Carbon, a lighter element, would crystallize, or freeze out if you will, much later. It might even form a shell of pure diamond around the star, much like water crystallizing into ice on your windshield. Imagine future space travelers landing on what appears to be Earth, yet with a surface of pure diamond. Break me off a chunk!
Fanciful as this may seem, diamonds from space are likely to be here on Earth now. Tiny specs of diamond have been found in meteorites, suggesting they originated on other planets or as pieces of disintegrating stars. In the 1840's, Brazilian diamond hunters came upon rare black diamonds that they called "carbonados." They look like coal, but they are over three billion years old. That's really too old for them to be products of compressed dinosaurs and ferns, which is how we were taught that diamonds were made from earthly organic carbon.
Geology Professor Stephen Haggerty of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst goes a step further and suggests that star dust, in the form of carbon molecules, may have formed the seed nuclei that grew nearly all of the jewelry diamonds we have today. The carbon "chondrite" meteorites came crashing to Earth when the atmosphere was much thinner and easier to survive entry. After growing into the diamond crystals that we recognize today, volcanoes brought them back to the surface of the Earth during major eruption periods of one billion and 100 million years ago. He suggests a "safe deposit box" of diamonds still within the Earth which will open up to us every once in awhile, albeit a long while.
Indeed, there may well be an entire layer of diamonds that crystallized as the Earth cooled. That layer would reside about 100 miles directly under us. The pieces that have worked their way to the surface when volcanic magma pushed them up lava tubes called the kimberlite pipes (named after the Kimberly Mines in South Africa) may be just a hint at what is still down there. The stunning blue Hope Diamond at nearly 45 carats and the 41 carat Dresden Green may be just a sample of the treasures sill captive deep within the Earth.
What's more, if diamonds really do have an interstellar origin, our own moon, which went through a similar geological cooling process to Earth's, may also be rich in diamonds somewhere deep beneath its crust. The much lower lunar gravity might also have allowed larger diamonds to form. Could they be six times the size of those on Earth?
Come to think of it, maybe the "man in the moon" isn't just an optical illusion. Perhaps he's a jeweler with a cache of diamonds greater than all the jewelry stores, royal treasuries and museums on Earth.
Books of Interest:
Secrets of the Night Sky: The Most Amazing Things in the Universe You Can See with Naked Eye by Bob Berman, Alan McKnight(Illustrator). Bob Berman, Discover magazine's popular "Night Watchman" columnist, offers fascinating facts and incredibly accessible descriptions of the most astounding heavenly phenomena. The book is illustrated with more than 150 original, cosmic drawings. Eight pages of color photos capture breathtaking astral occurrences.
A Photographic Tour of the Universe by Gabriele Vanin, Nasa(Photographer). "Vanin offers a pictorial review of the solar system, stars, nebulas, star clusters, and galaxies. . . . The last section is devoted to photographs from the Hubble telescope and includes a discussion of the telescope's difficulties." (Choice) Bibliography. Index. Originally published in Italy in 1995 under the title Atlante fotografico dell' universo.
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Note: Picture of the Hubble Deep Field by R. Williams, NASA, (shown above) is courtesy of the National Aeronatics and Space Administration. See the whole image here.
Diamond Oceans Possible on Uranus & Neptune - Discovery News article about how scientists have liquified diamond under heat and pressure and found that it behaves much like water. Conditions might be right on Uranus and Neptune to create these diamond oceans. Can the De Beers space program be far behind?
Copyright 1999 - 2014 by John E. Shepler. Linking to this article is welcome, but no online republication is permitted. Print media republication rights are available at reasonable rates. Contact me at: John (at) JohnShepler.com
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First Published: September 19, 1999 as part of A Positive Light
Last Updated: March 6, 2014
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