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An international team of astronomers, led by Australia’s Swinburne University of Technology professor Matthew Bailes, has discovered a planet made of diamond crystals, in our own Milky Way galaxy.
The planet is relatively small at around 60,000 km in diameter (still, it’s five times the size of Earth). But despite its diminutive stature, this crystal space rock has more mass than the solar system’s gas giant Jupiter.
Radio telescope data shows that it orbits its star at a distance of 600,000 km, making years on planet diamond just two hours long. Any closer and it would be ripped to shreds by the star’s gravitational tug. Putting together its immense mass and close orbit, researchers can reveal the planet’s unique makeup.
It’s “likely to be largely carbon and oxygen,” said Michael Keith, one of the research team members, in a press release. Lighter elements, “like hydrogen and helium would be too big to fit the measured orbiting times”. The object’s density means that the material is certain to be crystalline, meaning a large part of the planet may be similar to a diamond.
While the planet is an exciting find, it’s parental star is also quite interesting as well. It’s a pulsar (with the catchy name PSR J1719-1438), which are small spinning stars about 20 km in diameter — around the same size as London.
It’s also a very fast spinning pulsar (called a millisecond pulsar), rotating more than 10,000 times per minute. Like its companion planet, its mass far outweighs its minuscule size — it has a mass of about 1.4 times that of our Sun.
Astronomers believe that the diamond planet was once a star of its own, but the pulsar ripped off its outer layers and siphoned off 99.9 percent of its mass. The transferred matter is what caused the pulsar to spin at such a frenzied pace.
Researchers from institutions in the UK, Australia, Germany, Italy and the USA used a variety of radio telescopes — including the Australian Parkes CSIRO, the Lovell in Cheshire and the Keck in Hawaii — and 200,000 Gigabytes of celestial data to find the distant pulsar and its nifty diamond-esque planet.
Source: Wired UK