Diamond Planet Larger Than Earth; About Alien Planet 55 Cancri E

By Amir Khan on October 11, 2012 2:04 PM EDT

Diamond Planet
Orbiting a star visible to the naked eye is a planet twice the size of Earth and made entirely out of diamond (Photo: HAVEN GIGUERE)

Orbiting a star visible to the naked eye is a planet twice the size of Earth and made entirely out of diamond, according to a new study, published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters. Researchers from Yale and the Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planetologie in France discovered the planet, known as "55 Cancri e," orbiting a sun-like star in the constellation Cancer.

The planet's radius is twice that of Earth's, but is much denser with a mass eight times that of our own planet. It's incredibly hot, with temperatures reaching 3,900 degrees Fahrenheit, and moves very fast -- a year on the planet is only 18 hours.

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Researchers estimate that a third of the planet is made out of diamond.

"The surface of this planet is likely covered in graphite and diamond rather than water and granite," Nikku Madhusudhan, study author and researcher from Yale told Reuters.

While diamond planets have been spotted before, this is the first to be seen orbiting a sun-like star and be studied in such detail.

"This is our first glimpse of a rocky world with a fundamentally different chemistry from Earth," Madhusudhan said.

The findings show that distant rocky planets cannot be assumed to be made of chemicals similar to Earth's. Whereas 55 Cancri e is very in carbon, Earth is very poor in it.

"By contrast, Earth's interior is rich in oxygen, but extremely poor in carbon -- less than a part in thousand by mass," Kanani Lee, study author, told CBS News.

While stars are easy to study, planets are much more difficult, researchers said. However, this study will open the door to a better understanding of far-away planets.

"Planets are much more complex," David Spergel, an astronomer at Princeton University, told Reuters. "This 'diamond-rich super-Earth' is likely just one example of the rich sets of discoveries that await us as we begin to explore planets around nearby stars." 

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