DIAMOND PLANET

10.13.12

Space Bling: From Diamond Planets to Crystal Oceans to Precious Moon Jewels

All that glitters in the night sky could be, well, diamonds and rubies and emeralds, as space probes uncover a variety of precious minerals in the universe. By Alexa Valiente and Jaewon Kang.

The discovery of a new planet made largely of diamond, known as “55 Cancri e,” has many itching to add a piece of cosmic jewelry to their collection. Unfortunately, the planet is 40 light years from Earth, but the universe is also home to some other fabulous space gems. From green-crystal rain to ruby-like moon rocks, here is some other bling that’s out of this world.

Diamond Planet

A newly discovered planet will probably become a popular destination. Also known as 55 Cancri e, the rock planet is made of diamond and is twice the size of Earth. A year only lasts 18 hours on the diamond planet, whose surface that reaches 3,900 degrees Fahrenheit. Planets consisting of diamond have been identified before, but this is the first one that orbits a star. 

Green Crystal Rain on a Star

The Wizard of Oz’s Emerald City exists, and it’s on a young star 1,350 light-years from earth.  Last year, NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope recorded images of green crystal rain falling on the star, HOPS-68, in the constellation Orion. The emerald rainstorm contains a bright green mineral of a class called olivine—also known as peridot to us Earth-dwellers.

Crystal: carrier of history

Could a hunk of crystal really be the oldest thing on Earth? Scientists have discovered a mysterious quasicrystal in Russia’s Koryak Mountains that they now believe to be more than 4.5 million years old—making it older than anything else on Earth’s surface. The rock is currently on display at the mineral collection of Italy’s Museo di Storia Naturale.

Vesta's crystals

On the planet Vesta, there are plenty of crystals to treasure. A team of scientists have discovered a rock made of magnetized crystals within Vesta, the second most-massive asteroid in the solar system. It is believed that Vesta once had a magnetic field of 10 to 100 microteslas—compared to 30 to 60 microteslas of Earth's surface magnetic field—thanks to these crystals. The researchers believe the high magnetic field to be a reason behind the brightness of Vesta, which is sometimes visible to the human eye. 

Quartz-like Crystals Forming around Stars

Stars don’t just shine like diamonds in the sky—they actually are like diamonds too!  In 2008, NASA discovered crystals with a similar make-up to quartz surrounding young stars.  The crystals, called cristobalite and tridymite, swim in clouds around stars just before they begin to form planets. These particular crystals require flash heating events—such as shock waves that can cause sonic booms from speeding jets—to form.

Stardust Comet Contains Peridot and More

When NASA’s Stardust capsule returned from its mission in 2004, scientists were surprised to find crystals from the comet.  The spacecraft’s robotic probe grabbed dust from Stardust’s halo, which contained olivine--found on Hawaii’s green beaches—and spinel—a peridot gemstone used in jewelry.  These minerals are formed at extremely high temperatures, not in the frigid cold at the Solar System’s edge, where most comets come from.  Does that mean we can’t call bling ‘ice’ anymore?

Moon Has Pink Spinel

Now we know why the cow jumped over the moon—newly discovered moon rocks include bling fit for a king. In 2010, a planetary scientist from Brown University found the new rock on the far side of the moon with NASA’s M3 science team. The rock—which also contains the plain-old mineral plagioclase—includes pink spinel, a prized jewel on Earth. King Henry V wore the ruby-like stone on his battle helmet, and the crown jewels of both Britain and Iran feature a collection of spinel bling.

Moon's crystal mountains

Here is one more reason to fly to the moon: India's probe found giant mountains of crystals on the moon. The mountains extend to about 40 km. The discovery provided an insight into the moon's ancient, crystalline crust, as it suggested that a magma ocean might have once covered the moon. Iron-heavy minerals are believed to have sunk through the magma before floating to the surface in a new form of mountain.