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Index – Science – Diamonds literally fall from the sky in the back half of the solar system

Index – Science – Diamonds literally fall from the sky in the back half of the solar system

Although few people know that Saturn is not the only planet with rings, Uranus, the blue gas giant, can be classified here as well, and is surrounded by no less than 13 rings. It is true that its appearance does not even come close to that of Saturn, because it is much fainter, but However, they are there, as are the 28 small moons that orbit the planet daily. In the series of index articles, we go step by step through the planets of the solar system in order to collect in one place the special features of a particular planet – because the universe contains a lot of interesting things; This is also cumulatively true for Uranus.

Photo: Emilia Nemeth/Index

As we approach the end of our series, we are already in the back, or if you like, outer regions of the solar system – this time our imaginary spaceship is trying to find a safe location around the seventh planet from the star, where we can examine the 'icy' planet more closely. Being a gas giant, like Jupiter and Saturn, Uranus does not have a solid surface; At least not like the four Earth-type planets. Its atmosphere consists mostly of helium, hydrogen and methane, sometimes with a little water and ammonia – but more on that later.

One of Uranus' greatest features is that it rotates in the opposite direction compared to the rest of the planets in the solar system (except Venus) – in addition, its tilt angle is more than 90 degrees, so its orbit around the Sun is like a ball that rolls and turns, as opposed to a snail. It is interesting that in 1781 William Herschel, the German-English composer and astronomer, debuted III. He tried to name his discovery Georgium Sidus after King George, but this did not work for him, and instead, at Johann Bode's suggestion, the planet was named after Uranus, the Greek god of the sky.

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It's dark and stormy

Uranus's equatorial diameter is 51,118 km, making it four times wider than Earth. Its average distance from the Sun is 2.9 billion kilometres, meaning that Uranus is approximately 19 astronomical units from the star that rests at the center of the solar system – at this distance, moreover, it takes light 2 hours and 40 minutes to reach the planet. . The long distance also means a very slow rotation time. A day on Uranus is only 17 Earth hours long, but a year actually equals 30,687 days, or can be simplified to 87 Earth years. It formed about 4.5 billion years ago, so it could have been placed at the same time as the other planets in the solar system; However, it probably did not occupy its current location until much later. According to some theories, Uranus may have collided with another planet shortly after its formation.

For this reason, it was ejected to the outer part of the solar system, and its axis of rotation was formed at an unusual tilt angle.

As mentioned, the planet is mostly composed of hydrogen (about 83 percent) and helium (about 15 percent), like Jupiter and Saturn, but there is also about 2 percent methane in the atmosphere, which absorbs red light in the upper layers. Part of the atmosphere and that's why we can see the planet in pale blue-green colours. The planet is covered by several layers of clouds separated from each other, so sunlight no longer reaches the inner layers – complete darkness reigns inside the planet, and the only source of light is lightning. Uranus is dominated by violent storms and very strong winds, which in some cases can reach speeds of up to 900 kilometers per hour. thetruly This isn't the only thing happening in the planet's inner layers.

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Diamonds torn from the sky

Due to the extreme temperature – reaching minus 224 degrees Celsius in some places, and 4982 degrees Celsius in other places – and the harsh atmospheric pressure and building elements of the atmosphere, according to the current position of astronomers and scientists, the existence of life on Earth Uranus is completely excluded; However, extreme conditions also have an advantage, which we humans cannot enjoy, but regardless of that, it is still an amazing phenomenon; According to some assumptions, diamonds could fall from the sky to both Uranus and Neptune. Although this may seem completely impossible at first, when you think about it, what happens on planets is not supernatural – however, in order to understand this, it is worth clarifying a few concepts.

Astronomers often call Uranus and Neptune the “ice giants” of our solar system, as their outer layers are made up of compounds containing hydrogen and helium. In astronomical vernacular, “ice” refers to any compound of light elements that contains hydrogen, so water (H2O), ammonia (NH3) and methane (CH4) make planets “icy” – regardless of the temperature rules on them.

On Uranus, for example, there is a 17,500-kilometre-thick “layer of ice” beneath a 3,000-kilometre-thick hydrogen-helium atmosphere. According to simulations, gravity compresses the “ice” in this middle layer to a monstrous density, and the internal temperature can rise to thousands of kelvins. The high temperature is accompanied by pressure a million times greater than the pressure of the Earth's atmosphere, which leads to the compression of so-called snow – that is, compounds containing hydrogen – into a hot, dense liquid. Under such heat and pressure, ammonia and methane become chemically reactive, causing them to behave strangely, the scientists say, including forming diamonds.

This has already been proven in the laboratory

The idea of ​​diamond rain was first introduced by Marvin Ross of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in 1981. “The ice sheet of Uranus and Neptune – diamonds in the sky?” In his article. He hypothesized that the carbon and hydrogen atoms in hydrocarbons such as methane split at extreme pressures and high temperatures inside the ice giants. Groups of isolated carbon atoms then fuse to form the structure of diamond, the most stable form of carbon under these conditions.

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It is important to note that we have not yet been able to prove the theory, and the Voyager-2 spacecraft did not approach Uranus until 1986, but in laboratory conditions it has already become possible to reproduce what would happen on Uranus and Neptune; So, if we take this as a basis, we can say with almost certainty that diamonds could indeed fall from the “sky” onto the two planets. And so our imaginary spaceship continued on its way towards its final destination, which in theory is adjacent, but in reality it still has to travel great distances – the average distance between Uranus and Neptune is more than ten interstellar units, i.e. approximately 1 billion 622 One million 600 thousand kilometers.

Parts of the series of articles published so far:

Mercury: It is scorching hot, but ice covers the planet closest to the sun

Venus: Named after the goddess of beauty, but she embodies Hell

Earth: No matter how much we search, we cannot find another planet like this in the universe

Mars: Two potatoes orbit around it, and there could be life on it

Jupiter: There is a giant storm raging for centuries, and it will not subside

Saturn: Barely ten meters high, yet we consider it the most recognizable shape in the solar system

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