Like a Diamond in the Sky Stars That Create Diamonds in Space
are a Wonder of Astronomy
By: John Shepler
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.
Ruby Red Supergiant Stardust - Gifts for the astronomy and space enthusiast featuring Hubble Space Telescope images of a light echo illuminating dust around the supergiant star V838 that offers a beautiful ruby red glow among the stars of the universe.