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Astronomers Discover Nearby Planet Composed of Diamonds

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Illustration shows cross-section view of 55 Cancri e

A team of American-Franco researchers led by Yale University have discovered a nearby planet, twice as big as Earth, with a mantle that could be composed largely of diamonds.

The planet, known as 55 Cancri e, is located just 40 light years away in the constellation of Cancer and is likely covered in diamond and graphite rather than water and granite, like most celestial bodies.

Astronomers discovered the planet last year by spotting the minute dimming of light as 55 Cancri e was passing in front of its parent star. After calculating the planet’s radius and mass, scientists were able to make inferences about its chemical make-up.

55 Cancri e is eight times as massive as the Earth. It is one of five planets orbiting Sun-like star 55 Cancri, and is moving so fast around its star that a year there lasts a mere 18 hours.

“This is our first glimpse of a rocky world with a fundamentally different chemistry from Earth,” said lead researcher Nikku Madhusudhan, a Yale postdoctoral researcher in physics and astronomy.

At least a third of the planet’s mass is likely pure diamond which forms geologically from carbon subjected to extreme pressure.

“This ‘diamond-rich super-Earth’ is likely just one example of the rich sets of discoveries that await us as we begin to explore planets around nearby stars,” said researcher David Spergel.

55 Cancri e is, however, blisteringly hot as it is so close to the star it orbits. Its surface temperature reaches 3,900 degrees Fahrenheit (2,100 degrees Celsius).

The scientists are to publish their findings in a paper titled, “A Possible Carbon-rich Interior in Super-Earth 55 Cancri e,” which is due to appear in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, a section of The Astrophysical Journal.


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