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The long history of gold and diamonds.

by A B Forbes 8 days ago in Science
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The human race has considered them very special for a very long time.

The long history of gold and diamonds.
Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash

British spelling.

The amazing diamond is an object made of pure carbon.

Some amazing things can happen on and inside our planet. One of them was the creation of diamonds.

We all know the saying "diamonds are a girl's best friend," but where did they originate from? Well, we have to go back billions of years to when the first carbon atoms were formed.

I know this is hard to believe, but before time started, nothing existed. That changed 13.8 billion years ago when an event happened that would see the birth of the Universe. We call that event the big bang, it was the start of time and the expansion of space itself.

Around 380,000 years after the Big Bang, the conditions were right for the first atoms to form, they were mainly the lightest atoms, hydrogen, and helium, along with trace amounts of lithium and beryllium. Roughly 200 million years later, vast clouds of hydrogen and helium were drawn in by gravity and began forming denser areas in space, resulting in the formation and birth of the first stars.

It took the first stars millions of years to create elements heavier than hydrogen and helium. That element-building process was the result of nuclear fusion, which occurs in the stars' cores.

When these stars came to the end of their lives, they exploded, and these massive explosions are what we call supernovae. Vast amounts of heavier elements, including carbon, were blasted far out into space.

Diamonds that we find on Earth are made with carbon atoms that are billions of years old. All of those carbon atoms were manufactured in stars.

There were no planets, dwarf planets, moons, or any other celestial objects orbiting the first stars, at that time, there was nothing to construct them.

With the arrival of heavier elements that were now drifting in space, the Universe could evolve into a far more complex place, with many different celestial bodies similar to what we see today.

Our planet formed about 4.5 billion years ago, 90 different elements came together to make our world, and carbon was one of them.

Arguably, diamonds are the hardest natural substance known to man and were created between one and three billion years ago.

One hundred and fifty kilometres or more below the Earth's surface, intense heat and pressure can cause carbon atoms to crystallize and form diamonds. We would never have known about them had it not been for very deep-seated volcanic eruptions, which transported some of them from the upper mantle to the surface of the Earth.

The speed at which the diamonds were transported to the surface was critical, too slow a journey would have given the diamonds time to degrade to graphite, the stuff inside a pencil.

The volcanic material where most diamonds are found is called kimberlite, it is in these kimberlite deposits that most diamond mining takes place.

Next time you wear your diamond jewellery, just think of its long and complicated history. They are very special objects.

Diamonds can also have natural colours, trace elements of nitrogen, sulfur, and boron can colour them yellow, green, and blue.

Pink diamonds are different, the pink colour is caused by distortion in the diamond's crystal lattice. The "CTF Pink Star," weighing 59.6 carats, is valued at over 70 million dollars.

Red is the rarest diamond colour of them all. Being so rare makes them the most expensive stones you can buy. Like clear diamonds, they are pure carbon and have the same structure. Very few are over one carat in weight.

A five-carat diamond is equivalent to a weight of 1 gram.

In the 1990s, a Brazilian farmer found a rough red diamond that weighed 13.9 carats. It was cut into a 5.11-carat piece and originally called the Red Shield, it is now known as the Moussaieff Red. As of today, its estimated value is around 20 million dollars. I wonder how much the farmer was rewarded for his special find?

"Diamonds are forever" is that statement true? No, it is not. Intense heat can destroy diamonds, hit one with a hammer, and it will probably shatter.

Under certain conditions, diamonds can convert to graphite, but diamonds left at room temperature would last for millions, if not billions, of years.

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By Denny Müller on Unsplash

The famous element gold (Au), atomic number 79

Every chemical element is made up of atoms with the same atomic number.

Every atom has an atomic number, which is the number of protons in its nucleus, its centre. The lightest atom, hydrogen, has only one proton and the atomic number 1. A gold atom has 79 protons and an atomic number of 79.

When we pick up a piece of lead, the first thing we notice is how heavy it feels. lead has 82 protons in its nucleus, therefore atomic number 82. The more protons an atom contains, the heavier it gets. Of course, atoms also contain neutrons which also adds to their weight.

Every chemical element is made up of atoms with the same atomic number.

Gold is a chemical element that we recognize by its yellow colour. It has a high value because of its rarity, resistance to corrosion, electrical conductivity, and among many other things, its beauty.

The first solid evidence of humans interacting with gold goes back roughly 3,000 years before Christ. It was very important for the ancient Egyptians as a status of wealth.

We have all heard of a gold rush when people would go to a certain place and mine for gold or pan for flakes of gold in rivers or streams.

Sorry, I will have to mention stars and supernovae again, like in the first story about diamonds.

We must go back in time billions of years, to understand the true origin of gold. Stars produce heavier atoms in their cores through a process called nuclear fusion. It starts by fusing hydrogen to helium, and, over time, stars will manufacture other heavier elements. Larger stars can continue this process right up to iron, but that will be the end of the road for heavier element production in stars.

Elements heavier than iron were formed in supernovae and neutron star explosions. When large stars die, their end will not pass peacefully. They end with massive explosions called supernovae that create the right conditions for manufacturing heavier elements, including gold.

At the time of a supernova explosion, massive amounts of elements are blasted far out into space. Eventually, they will become part of other stars, planets, moons, or celestial objects spread throughout the Universe.

All the gold that has ever been mined and found by man is estimated to be 170,000 metric tons. Imagine a cube holding that amount of gold. Its sides would be roughly 20 meters across, although that volume of gold is minuscule when you look at the size of our planet.

The proportion of gold in the Earth's crust is estimated to be just four parts per billion.

The early Earth did not have a solid surface like we see today. Over 4 billion years ago, it was just a molten ball. During that time, heavy metals, including gold, sank towards its core, but the early asteroid bombardment stirred the deeper layers of our planet and forced some gold into the mantle and crust.

Little or no gold would have been found without that heavy asteroid bombardment. It is unknown how much gold lies deep within our planet, but it is thought to be much more than what lies in the Earth's crust.

Now you have a better idea of how ancient the history of gold is, it might make your gold jewellery that little bit more special, but all the elements on Earth have a very long history, especially hydrogen and helium. They are not much younger than the Universe, which is estimated to be 13.8 billion years old.

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Science

About the author

A B Forbes

I hope you find some of my articles interesting.

Our highly developed brain has given us intelligence and curiosity, now with the help of sophisticated scientific instruments, we can try and make sense of the Universe and our existence.

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  • A B Forbes (Author)8 days ago

    Author. My articles are written for people with an average understanding of the universe and life. We are not all experts. I hope you gain some knowledge if you decide to read them. Regards.

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