The Loh Down On Science

You won't believe what's raining down on Saturn!

Is there a place where diamonds rain from the sky?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science

Meet Kevin Baines, from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.  He and colleagues have been studying data from the Cassini probe, which is checking out Saturn.  They think atmospheric conditions there may be right for—get this—diamond hail!

It would start with lightning, which tears up methane molecules into hydrogen and carbon. As the raw carbon dust sank, the super-hot, super-dense atmosphere would put it under pressure, turning it into graphite.  That's the carbon in pencil leads. But as it sank deeper, things would get hotter and even more pressurized.  And the graphite would get crushed into diamonds.  Big ones too, a few carats, though uncut.

Baines says the process would take about a thousand years.  But Saturn, and its larger sibling Jupiter, could produce a thousand tons each year!

Sadly, if they exist, the diamonds aren't littered all over the surface.  As they fall, and temperatures increase, the diamonds eventually melt. 

Into a sea of liquid diamonds!  Not that a kiss on the hand can’t be quite continental.  Ish.

***** For more 90-SECOND SCIENCE FACTS, click here.*****

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, in partnership with the University of California, Irvine, and 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


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