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Moon and Jupiter

February 2, 2015

A machine that starred in a recent “Star Trek” movie has achieved a real scientific result: It’s crushed diamonds into dust, simulating conditions at the centers of giant planets.

Diamond is the hardest and least compressible everyday substance known. It’s made of carbon. There are no planets made of carbon in our own solar system. But there could be planets made of carbon in other solar systems. The great pressures inside these planets would squeeze the carbon and convert it into diamond.

Physicists recently used the world’s largest laser to subject diamond to the extreme pressures that exist at the centers of giant planets. The laser looks so exotic that it appeared in “Star Trek Into Darkness,” where it portrayed the warp core of the starship Enterprise.

In the recent experiment, the laser subjected diamond to a pressure 50 million times greater than the atmospheric pressure here on Earth. For a split second, right before it was pulverized, the diamond became slightly denser than lead.

If giant carbon planets exist, their centers must experience similar pressures, so the results from this experiment should help researchers model the interiors of these alien worlds.

And the giant of our own solar system stands well to the lower left of the Moon at nightfall. Jupiter looks like a brilliant star, outshining all the true stars in the night sky.

We’ll have more about Jupiter and the Moon tomorrow.


Script by Ken Croswell, Copyright 2014

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