Arthur C. Clarke, the late science-fiction writer most famous for “2001: A Space Odyssey,” let his mind wander all over the universe. In a sequel, “2010: Odyssey Two,” one of his extraterrestrial characters discovered that “the core of Jupiter, forever beyond human reach, was a diamond as big as the Earth.”
Now, a team of researchers led by Nikku Madhusudhan of Yale University
say they may have found the real thing – a so-called super-Earth,
orbiting a star 40 light-years away in the constellation Cancer the
crab. From its orbit and the size of its host star, they can calculate
its size and mass – its diameter is double that of Earth – and have
concluded that it is unusually dense.
How dense? To borrow a line from Clarke, “De Beers shareholders, please note.”
“The surface of this planet is likely covered in graphite and diamond
rather than water and granite,” said Madhusudhan in a statement from
Yale. “This is our first glimpse of a rocky world with a fundamentally
different chemistry from Earth.”
The planet is called 55 Cancri e, and you would not like it there.
Madhusudhan and his colleagues said it whips around its host star in
just 18 hours. The surface temperature is something like 3,900 degrees
Fahrenheit. The researchers said there is probably little water to
speak of. Life would be out of the question.
A lot of this is educated conjecture, of course, because the planet
is so distant that the only sign it exists is that once every
18-hour-long “year,” it passes between us and its host star, blocking an
infinitesimal amount of its light. But astronomers say that stars are
remarkably consistent in their size and composition, and they can
calculate a planet's likely size and density even if they cannot see it.
The findings have been accepted for publication in the journal
Astrophysical Journal Letters, said Yale. The authors estimated that up
to a third of 55 Cancri e could be diamond.
So if you could get there you would be very rich. But you wouldn't want to stay.
Copyright 2012 by ABC News