Asteroid Mining Is Just the Beginning: What If We Could Mine a Diamond Planet?
Somewhere out among the stars, not that far from home, is a planet named 55 Cancri e, otherwise known as Janssen (which makes it sound like it should be competing in the Winter Olympics right now).
This planet has long held astronomers' attentions, as based on the readings we've been able to take thus far, it looks like it could well be made entirely of diamond. This isn't a huge surprise—after all, diamond is essentially concentrated carbon, and this is a fairly standard planetary building block, which could even hold the keys to understanding the creation of life.
With advances in current technology, more and more commercial businesses are looking into the possibility of mining extraterrestrial bodies such as meteors and moons for their precious resources. Over the next few decades, initial attempts will be made to try to retrieve the contents of these distant objects, either to benefit space colonization missions, or to bring back to Earth to help support our own growing global population.
All of this leads naturally to a question that wannabe space prospectors are no doubt asking themselves: Would it be feasible to try mining 55 Cancri e for its wondrous diamond reserves?
In theory, this is completely possible, even if it would take an awfully long time for the mission to bear fruit. 55 Cancri e is a mere 40 light years away, which means that traveling to the diamond planet would take decades, possibly centuries, but it's not totally impossible. In fact, as far as interstellar journeys go, it's fairly manageable.
It might sound like nothing more than a bad sci-fi plot, but when you consider that companies are forming with the explicit purpose of mining $700 quintillion asteroids between Mars and Jupiter, mining a diamond planet for resources in the future might actually be the industry of tomorrow.
Of course, we'd need the technology to be able to harvest diamonds, but even with current progress in artificial intelligence and autonomous drones, this doesn't sound impossible. The only challenge would be the fact that the mission would need to occur in complete radio silence, as, naturally, there would be a decades-long delay to us actually being able to receive transmissions from the drone.
It's likely that as technology advances, these kinds of missions will be sent out to many of the stars in our near vicinity. A mission to Alpha Centauri, our closest star system, is already being planned, so it stands to reason that future astronomers will want to push humanity's reach even further.
Perhaps the biggest challenge facing a mission to reach the diamond planet is keeping planet Earth habitable for the length of time it would take to organize the voyage. With the current ongoing environmental changes that are taking place on our home world, it's hard to imagine humanity surviving long enough to mount such a big trip.
If we can avoid dooming ourselves over the next few centuries, it's very possible that, sooner rather than later, we'll make the trip to visit this distant world.
Of course, there is one looming issue surrounding mining 55 Cancri e for diamonds which will probably make the entire endeavor pointless: diamonds aren't valuable enough to justify the trip.
We already have a method of manufacturing diamonds right here on Earth, so we're not suffering from a lack of these expensive gems. If 55 Cancri e provided a large supply of scientifically important gold, things might be different, but it's hard to imagine that, now or ever, humans will be so desperate for diamonds that we'd try mining a distant planet instead of just cooking some up in a laboratory.
Nevertheless, asking these kinds of questions is useful to helping us figure out where our space exploration endeavors should go next. There's not much point to trying to harvest 55 Cancri e's diamond supply, but there could be valuable scientific discoveries to be made on the planet.
What's more, there may be other nearby worlds which have far more useful natural resources for us to collect.