Archive for the ‘chemistry’ Category

Conditions like those inside Neptune cause diamond formation

August 27th, 2017

Enlarge / That lovely blue exterior could be hiding a heart of diamond. (credit: NASA)

Carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen are some of the easiest heavier elements to form through fusion. As a result, they’re common in our Solar System, typically found combined with hydrogen to make ammonia, water, and methane. In the gas and ice giants of the outer Solar System, however, these chemicals are placed under extreme pressures, where chemistry starts to get a bit weird. Do these chemicals survive the crushing interiors of these planets?

One intriguing idea is that methane doesn’t survive. As pressure and temperature increase, methane should start condensing into more complex hydrocarbons. Then, as pressures increase further, calculations indicate the hydrogen and carbon should separate out, leaving pure carbon to sink to the depths of these planets. As a result, it’s been hypothesized that, close to their core, planets like Neptune and Uranus have a layer of pure diamond.

While some evidence supporting this theory has surfaced over the years, it’s been hard to precisely replicate the temperatures and pressures found inside the planets. Now, new work done at the SLAC X-ray laser facility supports the idea that these planets are full of diamonds. But the work indicates the diamonds only form at greater depths than we’d previously thought.

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Posted in astronomy, chemistry, diamonds, laser, materials science, planetary science, science | Comments (0)

Cartoons from XKCD creator will appear in high school science textbooks

March 23rd, 2016

(credit: Randall Munroe)

Randall Munroe, creator of popular webcomic XKCD, recently published a new book called Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words, in which he uses only the thousand most common words in the English language to explain how a variety of things work, from locks to nuclear bombs. Monroe’s publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, also publishes textbooks, and when editors in the textbook division saw proofs of Monroe’s Thing Explainer, they realized that his simple explanations could be used to augment high school textbooks.

You know, the old strategy employed ineffectively by dad joke-tellers everywhere: get the #teens on your side with humor.

(credit: Randall Munroe)

Luckily, Munroe’s Thing Explainer comics are absurd enough in their hyper-simplicity that they have a shot at breaking down the walls of sarcasm and ennui encircling the most eye-rolling of high school students.

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Posted in Biology, chemistry, Physics, textbooks, The Multiverse, thing explainer, xkcd | Comments (0)