Diamond Star Thrills Astronomers
Posted: Tuesday, February 17, 2004
By Dr David Whitehouse
BBC News Online 2-15-4
Twinkling in the sky is a diamond star of 10 billion trillion trillion carats, astronomers have discovered.
The cosmic diamond is a chunk of crystallised carbon, 1,500 km across, some 50 light-years from the Earth in the constellation Centaurus.
It's the compressed heart of an old star that was once bright like our Sun but has since faded and shrunk.
Astronomers have decided to call the star "Lucy," after the Beatles song, "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds."
Lucy in the sky
"You would need a jeweller's loupe the size of the Sun to grade this diamond!" says astronomer Travis Metcalfe of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who led the team of researchers that discovered it.
The diamond star completely outclasses the largest diamond on Earth, the 530-carat Star of Africa which resides in the Crown Jewels of England. The Star of Africa was cut from the largest diamond ever found on Earth, a measly 3,100-carat gem.
The huge cosmic diamond - technically known as BPM 37093 - is actually a crystallised white dwarf. A white dwarf is the hot core of a star, left over after the star uses up its nuclear fuel and dies. It is made mostly of carbon.
For more than four decades, astronomers have thought that the interiors of white dwarfs crystallised, but obtaining direct evidence became possible only recently.
The white dwarf is not only radiant but also rings like a gigantic gong, undergoing constant pulsations.
"By measuring those pulsations, we were able to study the hidden interior of the white dwarf, just like seismograph measurements of earthquakes allow geologists to study the interior of the Earth.
We figured out that the carbon interior of this white dwarf has solidified to form the galaxy's largest diamond," says Metcalfe.
Astronomers expect our Sun will become a white dwarf when it dies 5 billion years from now. Some two billion years after that, the Sun's ember core will crystallise as well, leaving a giant diamond in the centre of our Solar System.
"Our Sun will become a diamond that truly is forever," says Metcalfe.
© BBC MMIV
Send page by E-Mail