Scientists have long been puzzled by mysterious glowing streams in the far reaches of the Milky Way. In a study published in the journal Nature Astronomy, an international team of researchers reported that they have figured out the source of this microwave light and what it reveals about the origins of the Earth.
The glow has been the source of speculation in the scientific community for decades. Called anomalous microwave emissions (AME), they tended to occur in various points of the night sky. While scientists have been able to measure the microwaves they released, no one knew for certain what actually caused them.
A team led by researchers from Cardiff University proposed that the microwaves are likely from carbon crystals which Earth’s denizens know as diamonds. These are not jewel-quality diamonds though – they are nanodiamonds that are estimated to be hundred thousand times smaller than a grain of sand.
Nanodiamonds are usually found inside the mixture of dust and gas, called a protoplanetary disk, that surrounds newly formed stars. The extremely high temperatures in these areas are ideal for the formation of nanodiamonds, whose larger counterparts in Earth are themselves formed deep in the planet’s searing mantle.
The researchers discovered the true nature of AMEs by focusing on three young stars using two telescopes: West Virginia’s Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescopes and the Australia Telescope Compact Array. They were able to match the infrared led from the protoplanetary disks surrounding these stars with the unique signatures that nanodiamonds naturally give off. (Related: Scientists confirm that mysterious radio signals from outer space are not made by humankind.)
“This is a cool and unexpected resolution of the puzzle of anomalous microwaves radiation,” says Jane Greaves from Cardiff University’s School of Physics and Astronomy and lead author of the study. “It’s even more interesting that it was obtained by looking at protoplanetary disks, shedding light on the chemical features of early solar systems, including our own.”
Nanodiamonds are also found embedded in meteorites, thought to be ancient remnants from the birth of the Solar System. The discovery of the true nature of AMEs suggests that the Earth and its companion planets may have started out the same way – in a cloud of dust and diamonds.
Despite humanity’s forays into space exploration, outer space remains unexplored. It isn’t strange, therefore, that scientists encounter some truly out-of-this-world objects and phenomena beyond the visible sky. Here are some of them:
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