Mysterious space waves could be caused by tiny diamonds

Scientists may have found origin of microwaves that have baffled experts for decades

A Cardiff University image illustrating a mysterious stream of microwaves emanating from star systems far out in the Milky Way. Photograph: Cardiff University/PA Wire

A Cardiff University image illustrating a mysterious stream of microwaves emanating from star systems far out in the Milky Way. Photograph: Cardiff University/PA Wire

 

A faint and mysterious stream of microwaves emanating from star systems far out in the Milky Way could be caused by tiny diamonds, new research has suggested.

For decades scientists have been able to measure this “glow” of microwave light, dubbed the anomalous microwave emission (AME), coming from a number of regions in the night sky, but have yet to identify its exact source.

In a new study led by researchers at Cardiff University, an international team has shown that it is likely the microwaves are coming from tiny crystals of carbon, otherwise known as nanodiamonds, inside dust and gas that surrounds newly formed stars.

This collection of dust and gas, known as a protoplanetary disk, is where planets begin to form and contains a whole host of organic molecules.

The extremely hot and energised conditions within these disks are ideal for nanodiamonds to form.

The nanodiamonds contained within protoplanetary disks are often found in meteorites on Earth.

“We knew that some type of particle was responsible for the microwave light, but its precise source has been a puzzle since it was first detected nearly 20 years ago,” said lead author of the study Dr Jane Greaves, from Cardiff University.

“In a Sherlock Holmes-like method of eliminating all other causes, we can confidently say the best and likely only candidate capable of producing this . . . glow is the presence of nanodiamonds around these newly formed stars.”

Space telescope

The team used the Robert C Byrd Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia, the US, and the Australia Telescope Compact Array to examine three young stars emitting AME light.

By studying the infrared light that was coming from the protoplanetary disks surrounding the stars, the team was able to match this with the unique signature that is naturally given off by nanodiamonds.

“This is a cool and unexpected resolution of the puzzle of anomalous microwaves radiation,” Dr Greaves said.

“It’s even more interesting that it was obtained by looking at protoplanetary disks, shedding light on the chemical features of early solar systems, including our own.”

The study is published in the journal Nature Astronomy. – PA