Astronomers say the planet could contain diamonds.
Astronomers say they have discovered the first carbon-rich planet ever observed, leading to the belief that rocky planets could exist elsewhere and could have mountains of diamonds.
The searing-hot WASP-12b’s high carbon-to-oxygen ratio means the planet’s concentrated carbon can take the form of pure diamonds, says Nikku Madhusudhan, an astrophysicist at Princeton University and lead author of a report on the planet in the Dec. 9 issue of the U.S. journal Nature.
“It’s remarkable,” Madhusudhan said in an interview Friday with the Star. “It’s the first time we’re getting a good look at the carbon-to-oxygen ratio of planets.”
WASP-12b was discovered in late 2008 by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and from previously published ground-based observations.
Because of its high carbon-to-oxygen ratio and the fact there is no water on the planet, astronomers believe WASP-12b, beneath its gaseous layers, could have abundant diamonds and graphite in its core.
The giant gas planet is located roughly 1,200 light-years from Earth in the Auriga constellation. It’s 1.8 times the ratio of the massive Jupiter, with it swinging around its star one-point-one days, Madhusudhan said.
The side of WASP-12b that faces its star is incredibly hot, roughly 2315 degrees C. Because of its incredible heat and gaseous state, life definitely cannot exist on the planet, Madhusudhan said.
Madhusudhan said he and others will use WASP-12b’s findings to study what the interiors of carbon-rich planets could be made of. They currently don’t have the technology to observe the cores of these planets.
The findings also support theories that carbon-rich planets smaller than WASP-12b could exist around other stars, he said.