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Astronomical gem in the sky
Anna Chan
4/26/2004



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The recent and astounding discovery of the “galaxy’s largest diamond,” stretching 2,500 miles across, by a team of researchers led by astronomer Travis Metcalfe of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (HSCA) certainly didn’t happen overnight.

The 10 billion trillion trillion carat diamond, technically known as BMP 37093, was first sighted in 1941. This “nearby” gem - now nicknamed “Lucy” after the Beatles song, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” - resides some 50 light years away, and was categorized as a white dwarf in 1969. A white dwarf is the hot core of a star, left over after the star burns up its nuclear fuel and dies – the fate of our own Sun in some 5 billion years.

“The diamond star completely outclasses the largest diamond on Earth, the 530-carat Star of Africa which resides in the Crown Jewels of England. The Star of Africa was cut from the largest diamond ever found on Earth, a 3,100-carat gem,” reports the HSCA.

While astronomers have been working out various theories about the extraordinarily massive “dwarf,” – it weighs in at an impressive 5 million trillion trillion pounds – last month Metcalfe finished developing a computational method that made it possible to provide direct evidence to confirm a theory that astronomers have been using for more than 40 years.

The Epoch Times’ Anna Chan caught up with Metcalfe via email:

What was your first thought when you discovered this enormous white dwarf?

The white dwarf itself was discovered years ago. It was catalogued as part of the "Bruce proper motion" (BPM) survey in 1941, which identified it only as a fast-moving nearby star. It was recognized as a white dwarf by 1969, and the first study to look for variations in its brightness were published in 1979. The pulsations were not actually discovered until 1992, by one of my co-authors, Antonio Kanaan. In 1999, my other co-author, Mike Montgomery, worked out the theory of how crystallization might affect the pulsations. What I did was develop a computational method that finally made it possible to detect the crystallized core unambiguously.

How would you describe the significance of this discovery?

It is exciting for astronomers who study white dwarf stars because it is the first empirical test of a theory that we have been using for more than 40 years. Other astronomers may also find it interesting because it affects the ages of the coolest white dwarf stars -- and these provide one method of determining the age of our Galaxy. Some physicists who study high density matter might also be interested.

I've read that you've wanted to study the heavens since you were six. Having studied the universe for as many years as you have, and in the depth that you have, have you found the answers to what you have been searching for?

It is searching for the answers, not finding them, that gives me the greatest satisfaction. I have been given the opportunity to spend my life seeking knowledge for all of these years. That is my true reward.

Is there anything that you would like to add or comment?

Aside from the enchanting idea of a huge diamond in space, our work is one piece of a larger puzzle that astronomers have been working on for decades. The energy source for stars is nuclear fusion, so our attempts to understand how stars work in detail is very important. Fusion could provide an essentially inexhaustible source of clean sustainable energy for our planet. I believe one day it will.

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