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INTERPLANETARY DIAMONDS

A WORLD OF DIAMONDS, 40 LIGHT YEARS AWAY

 

The race is on to find a new mega-diamond deposit. With demand for the world’s most popular gemstone on the rise, spurred on largely by new consumers in developing markets, the supply of natural rough goods has plateaued, and between 2019 and 2030 could actually dip by about 2 percent per annum.

The problem is that not only are viable deposits of rough diamonds difficult to locate, but even once they have been discovered it takes the better part of a decade to reach full production. Right now, while a number of smaller mines are in various stage of preparation, no major facility is expected to come on line in the foreseeable future.

But there are locations where the rough diamonds are not only in abundance, in some cases rough diamonds are pretty much all there is.

THE DIAMOND PLANET

One of those places is called 55 Cancri e. It is a  super-dense planet in a solar system about 40 light-years from Earth, in the Cancer Constellation Cancer in our own Milky Way. And, in case that sounds a long way off, consider that its parent star, 55 Cancri, is bright enough to be seen from Earth with the unaided eye.

What makes 55 Cancri e particularly interesting is that it appears to be is composed mainly of carbon. Some of that is likely to be in the form of graphite, but scientists believe that at least a third of the planet’s mass is pure diamond.

A small section of the Milky Way, with our own solar system framed in red, and the 55 Cancri system, 40 light years away, framed in yellow.

What is more, 55 Cancri e has a radius that is twice as wide as planet Earth, and a mass eight times greater. But it does pose a number of seemingly insurmountable problems to future inter-galactic mining companies. Not only is it a long way away, but its proximity to its mother star means that surface temperature could reach as high as 2,100 degrees Celsius.

According to Peter Cohan, a contributor to Forbes magazine, the value of 55 Cancri e’s diamond deposits are about $26.9 nonillion, which is $26.9 followed by 30 zeros. This is several quadrillion million dollars more that the earth’s current GDP. And considering that Cohan did the calculation in 2012, it’s most probably a gross under-estimate.

 

A MOTHERLODE BENEATH THE EARTH’S SURFACE

But it is not necessary to leave the earth’s atmosphere to find a somewhat smaller, but still massive supply of natural rough diamonds. A study published earlier this year by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) suggests there may be more than a quadrillion tons of diamonds hidden in the earth’s cratonic roots, which are sections of rock beneath the center of most continental tectonic plates.

But they might as well be on another planet. Most diamond mines rarely extend below several hundred meters, and the world’s deepest mining operation, the Mponeng gold mine in South Africa, is less than four kilometers underground. The cratonic roots, in contrast, lie at depth of between 160 and 320 kilometers beneath the earth’s surface.

In the meantime, prepare your picks and shovels.