x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

A diamond discovery

A planet made of diamonds? It sounds amazing, but we're just scratching the surface of what's out there.

It's made largely of diamonds, it's worth $26.9 nonillion - think of Dh99 followed by 30 zeroes - and it's only 40 light years away.

But don't pack your pick axe just yet; the newly-discovered planet 55 Cancri e has a surface temperature of about 2,150°C - hot even by UAE standards - and 40 light years may be a mere trip to the mall in galactic terms, but it's still well beyond your travel agent's scope.

Scientists who have studied the nature of this new-found exoplanet - as planets circling other stars are called - are excited about 55 Cancri e's surprising chemistry. Princeton University astronomer David Spergel explained that "unlike our solar system, which is dominated by oxygen and silicates, this planetary system is filled with carbon".

There are also countless other planets around myriad other stars, no doubt bearing other surprises, some of them surely things we have not even imagined. We are just starting to really look.

With or without diamond planets, even a moment's reflection on the size and nature of the galaxies around us is at once humbling and exhilarating. For all our self-importance, we are on just one oxygen-and-silicates planet circling one of perhaps 400 billion stars that make up this one unremarkable galaxy. We have an awful lot to learn.