August 25, 2011 | David F. Coppedge

Lucky in the Sky with Diamonds

There are treasures all around us we do not perceive.  Sometimes we speak figuratively about sparkling gems that are, if we realized it, literally real, right there under our noses.  Children sing, “Twinkle, twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are, up above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky” without knowing that there really are diamond stars up there, with diamond planets, so magnificent and huge they are unfathomable in value.  These are actual discoveries that have been announced by scientists this week. announced “a gem of a find” this week – “Surprise! Alien Planet Made of Diamond Discovered.”  You heard it right; a planet made of diamond has been inferred to be orbiting a pulsar in the constellation Serpens.  The planet is believed to be the core of a white dwarf star that did not collide with the pulsar.  Likely made of carbon, the core became so compressed, it would have formed a single large diamond five times the size of the Earth.  PhysOrg included a video of the discoverer explaining the find.  New Scientist also reported the celestial “glitter ball,” calling it “hard core bling.”

It might be a little hard for the USA to mine the diamond planet to pay off its national debt, but there is something else right under our noses that is filled with millions of diamonds: a simple candle flame.  You heard that right, too; PhysOrg reported, “Professor Wuzong Zhou, Professor of Chemistry at the University of St Andrews has discovered tiny diamond particles exist in candle flames.”  No one knows what a candle flame is made of, he said, so he decided to check, and found that “1.5 million diamond nanoparticles are created every second in a candle flame as it burns.

Unfortunately, the diamond particles are consumed in the process and converted into carbon dioxide, but Zhou believes that the discovery could lead to the production of industrial diamonds “more cheaply, and in a more environmentally friendly way.”  The article recalled the prescient words of Faraday in 1860:

The famous scientist Michael Faraday in his celebrated 19th century lectures on “The Chemical History of a Candle” said in an 1860 address to the light: “You have the glittering beauty of gold and silver, and the still higher lustre of jewels, like the ruby and diamond; but none of these rival the brilliancy and beauty of flame. What diamond can shine like flame?

As yet, there is no way to extract the diamond particles, but the discovery will surely enliven the candle-making industry, and “could change the way people view candles.”  One candle manufacturer said, “We always knew candles added sparkle to a room but now scientific research has provided us with more insight into why.

These are wonderful stories to inspire children to enter science.  They can inspire us all with the wonders of God’s creation.  Can’t you imagine the sermon illustrations that could derive from these discoveries?  The world, the universe, is more wondrous than we even know. 

Michael Faraday is a good role model.  As with many creation scientists before and after him, the orderliness and beauty of the natural world inspired him toward a lifetime of scientific achievement.  Would you be able to hold an audience spellbound for an hour talking about a simple candle, like he did? You can read his delightful Christmas Eve Children’s Lecture “The Chemical History of a Candle” at the Fordham University Modern History Sourcebook.  Wouldn’t it be something to hear him give an updated version, including this week’s announcement about diamonds in a candle flame!  It was Faraday’s ability to look beneath the outward appearance of things into the laws and processes of nature that led to his great achievements, driven by his confidence in an all-wise Creator who created a world of unity and beauty.  As he said in his conclusion to the lecture,

Such fish as I have here [pointing to a globe of goldfish] respire by the oxygen which is dissolved from the air by the water, and form carbonic acid, and they all move about to produce the one great work of making the animal and vegetable kingdoms subservient to each other. And all the plants growing upon the surface of the earth, like that which I have brought here to serve as an illustration, absorb carbon; these leaves are taking up their carbon from the atmosphere to which we have given it in the form of carbonic acid, and they are growing and prospering. Give them a pure air like ours, and they could not live in it; give them carbon with other matters, and they live and rejoice. This piece of wood gets all its carbon, as the trees and plants get theirs, from the atmosphere, which, as we have seen, carries away what is bad for us and at the same time good for them – what is disease to the one being health to the other. So are we made dependent not merely upon our fellow-creatures, but upon our fellow-existers, all Nature being tied together by the laws that make one part conduce to the good of another.

How long does it take to make a diamond?  Read our fascinating entry “Instant Diamonds?” from 05/07/2007.

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