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quinta-feira, 12 de março de 2015

NASA WEB · DIAMONDS IN MARS-Is it raining diamonds on Jupiter and Saturn? Scientists believe that molten rock could be 'mined' from planets in the future

Is it raining diamonds on Jupiter and Saturn? Scientists believe that molten rock could be 'mined' from planets in the future

  • Diamonds are formed by lightning storms which turn methane into carbon
  • This carbon hardens into pieces of graphite and then solid diamond
  • As the diamonds fall, the growing pressures heat the gems into liquid diamond
What if it rained diamonds instead of grey drizzle?
That’s exactly what could be happening on Jupiter and Saturn, according to American researchers.
The two gas giants’ atmospheres could be filled with huge chunks of diamonds that could one day be taken back to Earth.
At lower depths of the planets, the huge dazzling gems are likely to be melted under extreme pressures and temperatures. 
Pile of diamonds
Saturn and Jupiter's atmospheres could be filled with huge chunks of diamonds that could one day be taken back to Earth
The average diamond could be as much as a centimetre in diameter, but some may grow so large that they could be described as ‘diamondbergs’, said the resarchers.
Planetary scientists Mona Delitsky of California Specialty Engineering and Kevin Baines of the University of Wisconsin-Madison conducted the research.Delitsky and Baines attempted to trace the fate of soot as it sinks downward on both planets.
They believe the diamonds are formed by lightning storms which turn methane into carbon soot. As this carbon falls it hardens into pieces of graphite and then diamond.
Diamonds
In a recent book, Alien Seas, a chapter by Baines and Delitsky named 'The Seas of Saturn' describes robot mining ships plying the deep interior of Saturn in the far distant future and collecting chunks of diamonds
Photo of the Great Red Spot on Jupiter
Damonds are formed by storms, such as the above storm pictured on Jupiter, which turn methane into carbon. As this carbon falls it hardens into pieces of graphite and then diamond
As the diamonds continue to to fall the pressure and temperature is so extreme, there's no way the diamonds could remain solid.
It's uncertain what happens to carbon down there, but one possibility the scientists are suggesting is that a 'sea' of liquid diamond could form.
While it has been known for 30 years that diamond may be stable in the cores of Uranus and Neptune, Jupiter and Saturn were thought to be too hot to have conditions suitable for precipitation of solid diamond.
Saturn's rings
While it has been known for 30 years that diamond may be stable in the cores of Uranus and Neptune, Jupiter and Saturn (pictured) were thought to be too hot to have conditions suitable for precipitation of solid diamond
In a recent book, Alien Seas, a chapter by Baines and Delitsky named ‘The Seas of Saturn’ describes robot mining ships plying the deep interior of Saturn in the far distant future and collecting chunks of diamonds.
The artwork shows robot hands reaching out to capture diamonds and collect them for transport to Earth.
The unpublished findings were presented at the annual meeting of the Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society in Denver, Colorado

NASA WEB · -NASA's Cassini spacecraft has provided scientists the first clear evidence that Saturn's moon Enceladus exhibits signs of present-day hydrothermal activity which may resemble that seen in the deep oceans on Earth. The implications of such activity on a world other than our planet open up unprecedented scientific possibilities.


Spacecraft Data Suggest Saturn Moon's Ocean May Harbor Hydrothermal Activity
Fast Facts:
› Cassini finds first evidence of active hot-water chemistry beyond planet Earth
› Findings in two separate papers support the notion
› The results have important implications for the habitability of icy worlds
NASA's Cassini spacecraft has provided scientists the first clear evidence that Saturn's moon Enceladus exhibits signs of present-day hydrothermal activity which may resemble that seen in the deep oceans on Earth. The implications of such activity on a world other than our planet open up unprecedented scientific possibilities.
"These findings add to the possibility that Enceladus, which contains a subsurface ocean and displays remarkable geologic activity, could contain environments suitable for living organisms," said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "The locations in our solar system where extreme environments occur in which life might exist may bring us closer to answering the question: are we alone in the universe."
Hydrothermal activity occurs when seawater infiltrates and reacts with a rocky crust and emerges as a heated, mineral-laden solution, a natural occurrence in Earth's oceans. According to two science papers, the results are the first clear indications an icy moon may have similar ongoing active processes.
The first paper, published this week in the journal Nature, relates to microscopic grains of rock detected by Cassini in the Saturn system. An extensive, four-year analysis of data from the spacecraft, computer simulations and laboratory experiments led researchers to the conclusion the tiny grains most likely form when hot water containing dissolved minerals from the moon's rocky interior travels upward, coming into contact with cooler water. Temperatures required for the interactions that produce the tiny rock grains would be at least 194 degrees Fahrenheit (90 degrees Celsius).
"It's very exciting that we can use these tiny grains of rock, spewed into space by geysers, to tell us about conditions on -- and beneath -- the ocean floor of an icy moon," said the paper's lead author Sean Hsu, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Cassini's cosmic dust analyzer (CDA) instrument repeatedly detected miniscule rock particles rich in silicon, even before Cassini entered Saturn's orbit in 2004. By process of elimination, the CDA team concluded these particles must be grains of silica, which is found in sand and the mineral quartz on Earth. The consistent size of the grains observed by Cassini, the largest of which were 6 to 9 nanometers, was the clue that told the researchers a specific process likely was responsible.
On Earth, the most common way to form silica grains of this size is hydrothermal activity under a specific range of conditions; namely, when slightly alkaline and salty water that is super-saturated with silica undergoes a big drop in temperature.
"We methodically searched for alternate explanations for the nanosilica grains, but every new result pointed to a single, most likely origin," said co-author Frank Postberg, a Cassini CDA team scientist at Heidelberg University in Germany.
Hsu and Postberg worked closely with colleagues at the University of Tokyo who performed the detailed laboratory experiments that validated the hydrothermal activity hypothesis. The Japanese team, led by Yasuhito Sekine, verified the conditions under which silica grains form at the same size Cassini detected. The researchers think these conditions may exist on the seafloor of Enceladus, where hot water from the interior meets the relatively cold water at the ocean bottom.
The extremely small size of the silica particles also suggests they travel upward relatively quickly from their hydrothermal origin to the near-surface sources of the moon's geysers. From seafloor to outer space, a distance of about 30 miles (50 kilometers), the grains spend a few months to a few years in transit, otherwise they would grow much larger.
The authors point out that Cassini's gravity measurements suggest Enceladus' rocky core is quite porous, which would allow water from the ocean to percolate into the interior. This would provide a huge surface area where rock and water could interact.
The second paper, recently published in Geophysical Research Letters, suggests hydrothermal activity as one of two likely sources of methane in the plume of gas and ice particles that erupts from the south polar region of Enceladus. The finding is the result of extensive modeling by French and American scientists to address why methane, as previously sampled by Cassini, is curiously abundant in the plume.
The team found that, at the high pressures expected in the moon's ocean, icy materials called clathrates could form that imprison methane molecules within a crystal structure of water ice. Their models indicate that this process is so efficient at depleting the ocean of methane that the researchers still needed an explanation for its abundance in the plume.
In one scenario, hydrothermal processes super-saturate the ocean with methane. This could occur if methane is produced faster than it is converted into clathrates. A second possibility is that methane clathrates from the ocean are dragged along into the erupting plumes and release their methane as they rise, like bubbles forming in a popped bottle of champagne.
The authors agree both scenarios are likely occurring to some degree, but they note that the presence of nanosilica grains, as documented by the other paper, favors the hydrothermal scenario.
"We didn't expect that our study of clathrates in the Enceladus ocean would lead us to the idea that methane is actively being produced by hydrothermal processes," said lead author Alexis Bouquet, a graduate student at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Bouquet worked with co-author Hunter Waite, who leads the Cassini Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer (INMS) team at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.
Cassini first revealed active geological processes on Enceladus in 2005 with evidence of an icy spray issuing from the moon's south polar region and higher-than-expected temperatures in the icy surface there. With its powerful suite of complementary science instruments, the mission soon revealed a towering plume of water ice and vapor, salts and organic materials that issues from relatively warm fractures on the wrinkled surface. Gravity science results published in 2014 strongly suggested the presence of a 6-mile- (10-kilometer-) deep ocean beneath an ice shell about 19 to 25 miles (30 to 40 kilometers) thick.
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, manages the mission for the agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Cassini CDA instrument was provided by the German Aerospace Center. The instrument team, led by Ralf Srama, is based at the University of Stuttgart in Germany. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.