Monday, November 17, 2008

OK, I've been newly energized by the first images of planets announced last week - plus I've finally started reading new research papers again - so I'm going to try to get back to writing a new post consistently.  Probably not every day, but whenever I see some new research that could use a nice little summary.

So here's today's new work - a paper on nano-diamonds in protoplanetary disks.  They observe the infrared signature of the dust particles at the exact wavelength coincident with the vibration of carbon-hydrogen bonds in diamond.  This isn't the first time emission from diamond has been observed, but so far there are only three objects that show it.  The diamond emission comes from the inner disk in stars that are bathed in X-ray radiation from low-mass companion stars - this heavy irradiation is required to turn the carbon molecules into diamond rather than graphite.  The current work nails this explanation by resolving different regions with diamond emission (inner disk) compared with non-diamond emission (outer disk).

You can use this idea to trace the disk chemistry - a very specific molecular structure can help tightly constrain the vertical disk structure and radiation environment - but it's not going to get you rich. The diamond particles are about 100 nm, which is the same size as your cellular chromosomes - kind of hard to put into an engagement ring.