Doctor Who recently visited a “diamond” planet named Midnight - but we may not need a Tardis to find jewels in space.
Pressure diagrams of Jupiter and Saturn suggest that there may be huge chunks of the gem floating in a freezing sea of liquid hydrogen and helium - and some day, they may be “mined” by spacecraft.
While writer F Scott Fitzgerald dreamed of a “diamond as big as the Ritz”, some of Saturn’s jewels are so large the scientists describe them as “diamondbergs."
“Like the proverbial manna from heaven, diamonds perpetually rain down on Saturn, forged from the soot produced by thunderstorms,” say researchers Mona L. Delitsky of California Specialty Engineering in Pasadena, California, and Kevin H. Baines of the University of Wisconsin-Madison
In a recent essay, “The Seas of Saturn”, the researchers suggest that in the far future, Saturn may even be mined - by ships which could return with tonnes of inch-wide gems, worth billions of dollars.
Pressure-temperature diagrams of the planets for Jupiter and Saturn show that deep inside the gas giant planets, huge solid diamonds may float, according to Delitsky and Baines.
Incredibly, deeper within the planets, the pressures and temperatures are so huge that the “bergs” will melt - and it may even rain diamonds.
The diamonds come from soot generated by Saturn’s enormous lightning storms. NASA scientists were astonished when the Cassini probe detected an 100-mile wide flash with a power of 3 billion watts - so bright it was visible through the clouds during the day.
“Diamonds "diamonds are not forever on Jupiter and Saturn,” say the researchers, “But they are on Neptune and Uranus”. For 30 years, scientists have theorised that the colder cores of Neptune and Uranus may contain solid diamonds.
Companies already anticipate harvesting the solar system’s mineral wealth, though. Deep Space Industries is to launch spacecraft in 2015 with the aim of harvesting minerals from asteroids.
“Using resources harvested in space is the only way to afford permanent space development,” said Gump. “More than 900 new asteroids that pass near Earth are discovered every year. They can be like the Iron Range of Minnesota was for the Detroit car industry last century -- a key resource located near where it was needed.”
“These distinctive dark formations on Saturn could very well mark something much more important to human destiny” the researchers write, “They and the gases they are immersed in, could be the key to the expansion of our civilisation to the outer solar system, more than 1.5 billion km from Earth.”
The researchers predict that one day it might even be possible to mine the planet, in a chapter written for Alien Seas, edited by renowned space artist Michael Carroll, a chapter by Baines and Delitsky entitled "The Seas of Saturn" was published.
“The deep-atmosphere mining vehicles - made of tetrahedral arrangements of spheres - each weigh 81 tonnes, similar to the weight of Space Shuttles,” the researchers write, “They plunge tens of thousands of miles into the depths of Saturn.”
The researchers imagine the craft harvesting inch-wide diamonds in a ceramic net - “among the largest ever found, and there are literally thousands within reach.”
The mission - using a ship whose hull is itself made from diamond - could harvest 4 tonnes, worth over $40 billion dollars.
Sadly for anyone planning to shop for a new necklace, the researchers imagine that such a mission may take some time to launch - and predict a date of 2469.
A planet detected by space telescopes in 2004, 55 Cancri e, was described as a “diamond planet” in 2012 - but researchers now believe that the rocks on the surface may just be normal, boring rocks, rather than diamonds. “It is less likely a hypothetical space probe sent to sample the planet’s innards would dig up anything sparkling,” warns University of Arizona astronomy graduate student Johanna Teske.
The fact that 55 Cancri e is 40 light years away may also slow down any mission to harvest its riches.