Researchers at Yale University have discovered a new diamond planet, a type of planet which was previously believed to exist in theory and fiction.
The planet, dubbed 55 Cancri e, was discovered last year and initially assumed to have a similar chemical makeup to Earth, The Verge reports.
After the planet’s mass and radius was estimated, and its host star’s composition was studied, astronomers now claim that the composition of 55Canri e consists mainly of carbon (in the form of diamond and graphite), as well as iron, silicon carbide, and potentially silicates.
“Science fiction has dreamed of diamond planets for many years, so it’s amazing that we finally have evidence of its existence in the real universe,” said study leader Nikku Madhusudhan, a postdoctoral researcher at Yale University.
“It’s the first time we know of such an exotic planet that we think was born mostly of carbon—which really makes this a fundamental game-changer in our understanding of what’s possible in planetary chemistry.”
He went on, adding: “This is our first glimpse of a rocky world with a fundamentally different chemistry from Earth. The surface of this planet is likely covered in graphite and diamond rather than water and granite.”
55 Cancri e is the first likely planet of this type to be identified around a sun-like star, though some scientists have previously suggested that such worlds do exist. Planets like this are vastly different from our Earth, which has relatively little carbon.
“By contrast, Earth’s interior is rich in oxygen, but extremely poor in carbon – less than a part in thousand by mass,” said study co-author and Yale geophysicist Kanani Lee.
“Unlike our solar system, which is dominated by oxygen and silicates, this planetary system is filled with carbon,” David Spergel, an astronomer at Princeton University, said.
“While it’s still unknown exactly what implication this will have on our understanding of evolution of planetary systems there’s no doubt it is an important step towards understanding the full diversity of planets.”
He also revealed to reporters that it was quite simple to work out the basic structure and history of a star once you know its mass and age.
“Planets are much more complex. This ‘diamond-rich super-Earth’ is likely just one example of the rich sets of discoveries that await us as we begin to explore planets around nearby stars.”
The discovered planet is what’s known as a super-Earth, with a radius twice as wide as that of our own planet, and a mass eight times greater, reports CBS News.
55 Cancri e speeds around its host star, and it takes the planet 18 hours to make full orbit wile Earth takes 365 days. Its surface temperature is estimated to reach up to 3,900 degrees Fahrenheit, making it probably way too hot for life.
However, the study of the planet will be continued as the researchers intend to make further observations of this star system which will allow to better determine the star’s composition and to analyze its atmosphere.
This information is believed to bolster the idea that 55 Cancri e is a diamond world.