Tiny Sparkling Clouds of 'Nanodiamonds' May Finally Explain Strange Space Radiation
When astronomers talk about observing the "cosmic background radiation," you might think it's the sort of signal that can only be observed by specialized instruments, like the LIGO or Hubble Telescope. In reality, you could observe this radiation by switching on an old TV and tuning the set to an "in-between" channel full of static.
All that static is a visual representation of the cosmic microwave radiation that's still bathing the universe in the aftermath of the Big Bang.
What's puzzled scientists for years is the fact that some parts of the universe have strong microwave emissions than others, when the radiation should be relatively uniform across the board. These mysterious sources of microwaves are fittingly called AMEs, or "anomalous microwave emissions," and one team may have finally figured out what's causing some of them.
While observing young stars, astronomer Jane Greaves of Wales' Cardiff University spotted strange levels of microwave radiation coming from their protoplanetary disks, the rings of gas and dust that form around stars and eventually solidify into planets.
After confirming the presence of the AMEs, Greaves compared notes with another astronomer named Anna Scaife, who had made similar observations around other stars. Together, the two realized that the three stars responsible for the AMEs were the only stars surrounded by "hydrogenated nanodiamonds," a special type of carbon crystal that is covered by a layer of frozen hydrogen.
According to a press release detailing the new research:
"In astronomy, nanodiamonds are special in that their structure produces what is known as a "dipole moment"—an arrangement of atoms that allows them to emit electromagnetic radiation when they spin. Because these particles are so small, they are able to spin exceptionally fast, emitting radiation in the microwave range..."
These diamonds—which are "hundreds of thousands of times smaller than a grain of sand"—seem to be the best explanation for the AMEs.
According to Greaves: "In a Sherlock Holmes-like method of eliminating all other causes, we can confidently say the best candidate capable of producing this microwave glow is the presence of nanodiamonds around these newly formed stars."
If Greaves and Scaife are right, then we may have unraveled another one of the universe's seemingly endless string of mysteries.