A small planet thought to be made up of diamond has recently been discovered by a team led by Matthew Bailes of Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia. Sounds fanciful, but is awesome to think of.
The team originally detected a pulsar, a small spinning star about 20 km in diameter that emits a beam of radio waves. These waves repeatedly wash over the Earth, and are detected by radio telescopes as a regular pattern of radio pulses. The team found periodic variations in these pulses, due to gravity tugging on the pulsar by an orbiting companion planet.
This planet has a mass that is slightly greater than Jupiter, and it orbits the pulsar in just 2 hours and 10 minutes at a distance of 600,000 km (a little less than the radius of our Sun). The planet is also very small - less than 60,000 km in diameter (roughly 40% of the width of Jupiter). If it were any bigger, it would be ripped apart by the pulsar’s gravity. This suggests the planet is all that remains of a once massive star which has been whittled down by the fast-spinning pulsar. The pulsar, termed a millisecond pulsar, rotates more than 10,000 times per minute, has a mass of about 1.4 times that of our Sun, and yet is only 20 km in diameter.
The core of a stripped down star is composed of mostly carbon with a little oxygen. With the mass of Jupiter compressed into a much smaller space, the high pressure exerted upon the planet by its own gravity would result in it being made up of a crystalline material, meaning a large portion of it could be diamond… a 1031-carat diamond. That’s so incredible, and really makes the mind wonder about the other wonders of the Universe!
Here’s to future discoveries. Onwards!
The picture above (credit to Swinburne Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing) shows an artist’s impression of the pulsar and the orbiting planet. The pulsar-planet system could fit inside the Sun, whose size is shown as the orange sphere.