AS sparkling bling goes, it doesn’t get bigger.

DIAMONDS IN THE SKY

Australian astronomers have discovered a planet they think is made of diamond.

The galactic gem could be as large as 60,000 kilometres across – five times the diameter of Earth.

The "diamond planet" orbiting a pulsar, centre, of this image. The orbit is represented by the dashed line. The blue lines represent the radio signal from the pulsar.The “diamond planet” orbiting a pulsar, centre, of this image. The orbit is represented by the dashed line. The blue lines represent the radio signal from the pulsar. Illustration: Swinburne University 

It is orbiting a tiny, dead, spinning star, called a pulsar, about 4000 light years away in the Milky Way.

CSIRO astronomer Michael Keith said the diamond planet was likely to be very hot and glowing white.

“It would probably look very pretty,” he said.

An international team, led by Matthew Bailes of Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, found the exotic object using telescopes including the radio telescope at Parkes. They were searching for pulsars – the lighthouses of the universe – which emit beams of radio waves as they spin rapidly.

They discovered a pulsar which is only about 20 kilometres across and rotating extremely fast – 175 times every second.

Slight variations in its pulse alerted the astronomers to the presence of the companion planet, which orbits the pulsar every two hours and 10 minutes. Dr Keith said the planet appeared to have been a massive star that lost more than 99 per cent of its mass.

Its density made it likely it comprise mostly of carbon atoms, crushed together in a crystalline structure “very similar to diamond.”

He joked that it would be priceless: “I recently got engaged so I know how much diamonds cost.”

Team member Willem van Straten said they hoped the planet was glowing white, because that would make it easier to see light from it using a telescope. The team was searching for millisecond pulsars because they were like accurate “clocks” whose regularity could be used to detect the presence of gravitational waves – theoretical ripples in space time thought to be generated by cosmic events such as two black holes colliding.

The “holy grail” would be to find a pulsar orbiting a black hole, to see if Einstein’s general theory of relativity still holds in an extremely strong gravity field, he said. “You could study space and time in the vicinity of the black hole with a lot of precision.”

Somewhat unromantically the pulsar, with its diamond companion, is named PSR J1719-1438

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha


 

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