Planets are ‘made of diamonds’

Planets with diamond mountains could exist in a young solar system being studied by Nasa scientists.

The infant worlds are spinning in a vast cloud of carbon gas around Beta Pictoris, one of the closest stars to the Sun. Carbon, which is also a basic building block of life, was detected in the dusty disk 63 light-years away from Earth.

Nasa discovered it using a satellite called Fuse which looks at the universe with ultraviolet eyes. They say the star’s solar system might also resemble our own sun’s family of worlds in its early days of formation. Atmospheres around any planets could be rich in methane like Saturn’s biggest moon Titan.

Beta Pictoris is 1.8 times more massive than the sun but very young at just eight to 20 million years old. Its dusty disk was first spotted 22 years ago. Observations with the Hubble space telescope have previously suggested that a planet the size of Jupiter is orbiting the star and rocky worlds like the Earth could also exist.

Scientists believe that the carbon gas is released by comets or asteroids colliding with each other, a process similar to that which seeded our own planet with the ingredients for life.

Aki Roberge, of Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Centre in Greenbelt, Maryland, said: “There is much, much more carbon gas than anyone expected. Could this be what our own solar system looked like when it was young? Are we seeing the formation of new types of worlds? Either prospect is fascinating.”

Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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