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Beyond Earthly Skies

Compressing Diamond to Unprecedented Densities

31 Jul 2014, 22:00 UTC
Compressing Diamond to Unprecedented Densities
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Thousands of exoplanets have been discovered to date. The discoveries show that exoplanets are far more diverse than originally predicted. Knowledge of the behaviour of matter under extreme pressures is important for understanding the interiors of giant planets like Jupiter and other exoplanets such as super-Earths (i.e. exoplanets between 1 to 10 Earth-masses). Using the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California, a team has succeeded in crushing diamonds to pressures of up to 5 terapascals, about 50 million times the atmospheric pressure on Earth’s surface. By doing so, the team managed to replicate the extreme conditions found deep within giant planets and carbon-rich super-Earths.Figure 1: Artist’s impression of an exoplanet.The technique used by the team to compress carbon (i.e. in the form of diamond) is known as dynamic ramped compression. In the experiment, 176 laser beams with a total peak power of 2.2 terawatts were used to “put the squeeze” on carbon. For each run, a piece of diamond is placed in a small gold cylinder measuring 6 mm in diameter and 11 mm in length. The laser pulses were timed to a precision of 0.02 nanoseconds and focused to strike the interior wall ...

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