Diamonds Crushed With Lasers Recreate Earth’s Center

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Scientists have been using the world’s strongest laser to crush a diamond in order to recreate the conditions at the earth’s core. According to new research the theoretical models for high pressure’s effect on carbon are correct, and give scientists a good idea of the way in which the center of planets might work. As humans look toward other planets as candidates for travel, information like the research provides will become more and more important.

The research, which appeared in the scientific journal Nature, was accompanied by a more plainly written article authored by scientists Chris J. Pickard & Richard J. Needs, and involved the use of the world’s biggest laser. The experiment went some way toward confirming scientific theories about the reactions of matter to incredibly high pressures.

World’s largest laser used to model earth’s core

The scientists described the machine used for the experiment in the piece saying, “the US National Ignition Facility (NIF), is unique. It houses the world’s largest laser, which can be focused onto a millimetre scale target held at the centre of a 10-metre aluminium sphere.”

According to the research the pressures created by the machine during the course of the experiment reached a peak of around 5 tera-pascals, 14 times the pressure at the center of the earth. The dynamic compression allowed by the laser technology is celebrated as much more powerful than traditional compression tools.

According to the scientists, the research gives some insight into the conditions at the center of planets, but they offer limited insight into the way in which those planets form. “Planets form over many millions of years, whereas the reported dynamic ramped compression procedure is over in a flash,” wrote the two in an essay that accompanied the research.

Experiments confirm high-pressure theory

According to the experimental data collected from the crushing of the diamond, mathematical models describing the reaction of matter to extreme pressure appear to be right. “Overall, however, the agreement between results from density-functional-theory calculations and the experiment is good, so the theory is likely to be on a solid footing,” according to the article that accompanied the piece.

More work will certainly be needed to give a strong backing to mathematical theories about the way in which matter reacts to the pressures present in the centers of planets, but the experimental data in this paper appears to be directionally supportive. The technology that allowed these experiments to be carried out is new, and the distance that scientists will be able to go with data from the National Ignition Facility may be massive.

If humans ever manage to escape the  bonds of our solar system, we will be heading for carbon rich planets in order to find another place to call home. Research like that done with the giant laser will help us, as a species, to understand how those planets work and what kinds of resources we can expect to find on them.

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