A girl's cosmic best friend
Kimora's next home? Scientists discover a fabulous diamond planet with secrets
When we imagined alien life on distant planets, perhaps we should have pictured ice queens skating in a sparkly world of diamond mountains, graphite forests and glass plains.
That's how scientists say a newly-discovered planet 1,200 light years away might look. WASP-12b is slightly larger than Jupiter but 50 times as close to its star, making it much hotter.
Most importantly, the carbon-to-oxygen ratio in the atmosphere is twice that of most similar planets at about 1:1, giving it a fundamental difference in make up from silicon-based planets like Earth, creating the possibility of giant geographic features like mountains made of carbon-based diamond and graphite. And with WASP-12b's elevated levels of methane, scientists are left to imagine alternate forms of life that exist there to produce via metabolism the carbon-and-hydrogen gas.
OK, technically, scientists admit that WASP-12b is too big, too hot and too gaseous to support life — or diamonds. But its composition makes scientists believe there could be other planets that fit the description — even in the same solar system.
"It's the first carbon-rich planet ever found," says Princeton postdoctoral planet researcher Nikku Madhusudhan, part of the team that made the discovery. "Now that we've found one, we know there may be a lot more out there."
It wouldn't be the first diamond discovered in space. In 2004, researchers identified a former white dwarf star that has compressed and hardened into a giant diamond 25,000 miles across — or 10 billion trillion trillion carats. They named it Lucy, as in "Lucy In the Sky with Diamonds," the famous Beatles song.