It’s not alien life or anything, but a planet encrusted in diamonds ain’t a bad discovery. The planet is called 55 Cancri e and it’s what’s referred to as a super-Earth. That is, it’s a planet with a mass bigger than Earth’s, but also a lot less than gas giants like Uranus and Neptune. It doesn’t really imply that it’s potentially habitable or even particularly Earthlike in any other way. At least anymore. 55 Cancri has a year that lasts about 18 hours and a surface temperature in the neighborhood of 3,900 degrees Fahrenheit. It probably has no water in any form, and no atmosphere. It’s a classic lifeless hell-scene — but it does boast a whole lot of diamonds.
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Image: Nikku Madhusudhan
So, this is actually most likely the opposite of alien life, and a bad sign for our likelihood of finding it. We make a whole lot of assumptions in studying extrasolar planets, mainly because we have an extremely limited set of known planets to work with. Our mechanism of planet analysis is inferences based on transit observations that give us the planet’s radius and mass. Astronomers take that bit of known info, do some calculations, and come up with the most likely chemical composition of a planet. With 55 Cancri e, we get a rock made of carbon, iron, and silicon carbide. Maybe a third of that is diamond. None or very close to none of it is water.
Prior to this new research, done at Yale and set to be published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, astronomers had been assuming the planet would have a composition more Earthlike, with a atmosphere rich in super-heated water. So now we’ve found our first counter-example. A super-Earth doesn’t have to be anything like Earth at all. It can be just some diamond wasteland like 55 Cancri e. On the plus side, this is good for astronomy in more general terms as the kinda/sorta confirmation of a theorized planet type.
Maybe the aliens eat and breath diamonds? Partytimes on Planet Baller.