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Lucy: The Largest Known Diamond In The Galaxy
Confirming what the Beatles always knew, astronomers have actually found a diamond in the sky. It is the biggest known diamond in the universe, in fact.
“Lucy” is 2,500 miles across and weighs 5 million trillion trillion pounds. Translating this to carats would mean an approximation of 10 billion trillion trillion carats. That’s a one followed by 34 zeros. The space diamond is virtually an enormous chunk of crystallized carbon, 4,000 kilometers in diameter. The stone is located at a distance of 50 light years from Earth in the Constellation Centaurus (500 trillion kilometres). A fair distance as far as stars go. This means it is about 400 times too faint to see with the naked eye (a light-year is the distance light travels in a year, or about 6,000,000,000,000 miles. So if you can imagine that amount multiplied by 50, that is how far Lucy is from Earth).
Scientists believe that the diamond is the heart of an extinct star that used to shine like the Sun. Astronomers have already dubbed the space diamond as Lucy in a tribute to the Beatles song ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.’
Vince Ford, a research officer at Mount Stromlo Observatory near Canberra, said astronomers, including Australians, had observed the star for more than eight years. “You would need a jeweler’s loupe the size of the Sun to grade this diamond!” says astronomer Travis Metcalfe (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics), who leads a team of researchers that discovered the giant gem.
No way could anyone wear that. She is definitely too big for Earth. At today’s rate, not even the world’s richest people combined could afford to purchase Lucy “Bill Gates and Donald Trump together couldn’t begin to afford it.” says astronomer Travis Metcalfe. In the long run though, the possible acquisition of Lucy would be quite alarming to miners, jewelers, as well as economists all over the world; as her estimated value might deflate the market for all known gems on Earth. If we follow the law of supply and demand, once Lucy was cut down to wearable size, there would be enough to make diamonds a dime a dozen, depreciating its appraised worth as a rare commodity.
The cosmic stone completely outclasses all diamonds that have ever been found on Earth. The diamond claiming the title of largest cut gem in the world is the 546 carats Cullinan I found in South African Republic. The diamond, also known as The Star of Africa, resides in the Crown Jewels of England. The Star of Africa was cut from the largest diamond ever found on Earth, a 3,100-carat gem.
Lucy, technically known as BPM 37093, is actually a crystallized white dwarf. A white dwarf is 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.
The white dwarf 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.
The star confirms a theory, first raised in the early 1960s, that cool white dwarfs should have a diamond core.
So for more than four decades, astronomers have thought that the interiors of white dwarfs crystallized, but obtaining direct evidence became possible only recently.
“The hunt for the crystal core of this white dwarf has been like the search for the Lost Dutchman’s Mine. It was thought to exist for decades, but only now has it been located,” says co-author Michael Montgomery (University of Cambridge).
Lucy “pulsates”, which means its light fluctuates at regular intervals. “By measuring these 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,” Dr Metcalfe said.
“We figured that the carbon interior of this white dwarf has solidified to form the galaxy’s largest diamond.” This means that other white dwarfs must also have diamond cores
Astronomers say that our Sun will die in five billion years and become a white dwarf too. About two billion years the Sun’s ember core will crystallize as well, leaving a giant diamond in the center of our solar system.
Distance: 54 light-years
Spectral class: DA6
Visual magnitude: 13.96
Luminosity: 0.0006 * Sun
Diameter: 0.0029 * Sun
Radial velocity: -12 km/sec
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