Tuesday, January 09, 2007

A Diamond That’s Out of This World, Literally

Try to imagine a 10 billion trillion carat diamond. Impossible? Well, it’s out there. Way out there – 50 light years from the Earth in the constellation Centaurus, according to astronomers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

These astronomers said they have discovered a star that’s essentially one big diamond, according to the BBC. The star is technically known as BPM 37093 but it’s being called ‘Lucy’ after the Beatle’s song ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.’ Lucy is a crystallized white dwarf which is the hot core of a star left over after the star uses up its nuclear fuel and dies. The star is mostly made of carbon and it is 4,000 kilometers wide.

For more than four decades, astronomers have thought that the interiors of white dwarfs crystallized, but obtaining direct evidence was only possible recently.

According to astronomers, the white dwarf is not only radiant but also rings like a gigantic gong, undergoing constant pulsations.

"By measuring those pulsations, we were able to study the hidden interior of the white dwarf, just like seismograph measurements of earthquakes allow geologists to study the interior of the Earth,” said astronomer Travis Metcalfe who led the team of researchers that discovered it.

"We figured out that the carbon interior of this white dwarf has solidified to form the galaxy’s largest diamond," said Metcalfe.

Astronomers expect our sun will become a white dwarf after it dies 5 billion years from now. Two billion years after that, the Sun's ember core will crystallize as well, leaving a giant diamond in the centre of the solar system.

"Our Sun will become a diamond that truly is forever," said Metcalfe.

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