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Diamonds are Forever

Diamonds are forever. But they are not for everyone, given their fabulous cost. Just because you love them does not mean you can have them.


For all those who dream of possessing a real large rock, Valentine Day this year came with a wish fulfilment. Scientists have discovered a huge sparkler. It is a 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 carat giant (that is 1 followed by 34 zeroes). Definitely too big to wear but still real enough!


By way of comparison it can be said that the largest diamond on earth happens to be the 530-carat Star of Africa which is party of the Crown Jewels of England. It was cut form the largest diamond ever found on earth, a 3,100-carat gem.


This 10 billion trillion trillion carat cosmic jewel is a chunk of crystallised carbon 4000 km across and weighing five million trillion trillion pounds.


It is 50 light-years from the earth in the constellation Centaurus. That means that if you can somehow rig up a rocket which travels at a speed of about three lakh km per second – an impossibility, considering that the space shuttles of today travel at about 5 km per second — you can reach the gem in half a century.
At today’s achievable speed, the coveted star is only 30 lakh years away, if you can find enough fuel, that is.


“It’s the mother of all diamonds!” says astronomer Travis Metcalfe of Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who leads a team of researchers that discovered the giant gem. “Some people refer to it as ‘Lucy’ in a tribute to the Beatles song ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’.”


The newly discovered cosmic gem technically known as BPM 37093 is actually a crystallised white dwarf, the hot core of a star left over after the star uses up its nuclear fuel and dies.


It is made mostly of carbon and is coated by a thin layer of hydrogen and helium gases.


Our sun will become a white dwarf when it dies five billion years from now. About two billion years after that, the sun’s ember core will crystallise as well, leaving a giant diamond in the centre of our solar system, which will truly be forever.


Astronomers have postulated for more than four decades that the interiors of white dwarfs crystallise but have obtained direct evidence only recently.


The white dwarf studied by Metcalfe, Michael Montgomery (University of Cambridge) and Antonio Kanaan (UFSC Brazil), is not only radiant but also harmonious. It rings like a gigantic gong, undergoing constant pulsations.


“By measuring those pulsations, we were able to study the hidden interior of the white dwarf, just like seismograph measurements of earthquakes allow geologists to study the interior of the earth. We figured out that the carbon interior of this white dwarf has solidified to form the galaxy’s largest diamond,” says Metcalfe.
A paper announcing this discovery has been submitted to The Astrophysical Journal Letters for publication.


Headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics is a joint collaboration between the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and the Harvard College Observatory.


CfA scientists, organised into six research divisions, study the origin, evolution and ultimate fate of the universe.


Space researchers have made another interesting discovery this month. It is a new photograph from the Spitzer Space Telescope showing a cluster of newborn stars.


These bright young stars are found in a rosebud-shaped (and rose-colored) nebulosity known as NGC 7129. The star cluster and its associated nebula are located at a distance of 3300 light-years in the constellation Cepheus. The shape and colour are turning even staid scientists into romanticists.


A recent census of the cluster reveals the presence of 130 young stars. The stars formed from a massive cloud of gas and dust that contains enough raw materials to create a thousand sun-like stars.


In a process that astronomers still poorly understand, fragments of this molecular cloud became so cold and dense that they collapsed into stars. Most stars in our Milky Way galaxy are thought to form in such clusters.


“The diameter of the cluster is equal to the distance between the sun and the nearest star, Proxima Centauri.


Within that distance, we find 130 stars. By combining data from the Smithsonian’s MMT Telescope in Arizona with Spitzer data, we find that roughly half of these stars are surrounded by disks of gas and dust.


Each of these disks is a forming solar system,” says CfA researcher Tom Megeath.


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