Traditionally, we think diamonds form from the intense pressures found in our planet’s interior, but a number of powerful gemstones have also been found in meteorites from space – and the stones are fundamentally different from terrestrial diamonds.
An international team of researchers said they have discovered the largest crystals to date from a rare type of diamond called lonsdaleite. Diamonds have an unusual hexagonal atomic structure (compared to the more common cubic structure) and have been found in a meteorite that may have originated from a dwarf planet that had a catastrophic collision with an asteroid billions of years ago.
“This study conclusively proves that Lonsdalite exists in nature,” Dougal McCulloch, director of the Microscopy and Microanalysis Facility at RMIT in Australia, said in a statement.
The unusual hexagonal structure can make diamonds more difficult than most earth-grown diamonds. Lonsdaleite is found in a specific type of meteorite, called ureilite, and has also been discovered Manufactured in the laboratory By shooting discs of graphite against a wall at speeds similar to those of an asteroid hitting a planet.
The research team looked at 18 ureilites, mostly from northwest Africa, and one was discovered by Monash University geology professor Andy Tomkins on Nullarbor, a vast arid plain in southern Australia. Exotic diamonds were found in only four samples, all from northwest Africa.
But the details of how these super-diamonds form in space have remained somewhat obscure.
McCulloch and his colleagues have used advanced electron microscopy techniques to look at slices of meteorites and think they may have discovered a new formation process for both ordinary diamonds and diamonds.
This process, McCulloch said, “is similar to the process of supercritical chemical vapor deposition that occurred in these space rocks, possibly on the dwarf planet shortly after a catastrophic collision.”
In layman’s terms, this means that space diamonds most likely formed from carbon-based materials, most likely, on a dwarf planet under severe stress after a cosmic traffic accident. The team actually believes this is the dominant hypothesis for diamond formation during The effect may be faulty – and the diamond may have formed at lower stresses after destruction. Similar processes are used under controlled environments to produce materials for some metals, semiconductors, and other products.
The study was led by Tomkins and published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The space diamond sample provides a new process for industries to try to replicate, Tomkins says.
“We don’t really know how hard Lonsdalete is,” Tomkins told CNET. “It has been mathematically estimated to be 58% harder than diamond, but this has not yet been proven by analogy.”
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“We believe that lonsdaleite can be used to make extra-rigid machine parts if we can develop an industrial process that promotes the replacement of preformed graphite parts by lonsdaleite,” Tomkins said.