Nanodiamonds Causing Mysterious Stars’ Microwaves

June 12, 2018
3 minutes read
Nanodiamonds Causing Mysterious Stars’ Microwaves

Observations show that tiny particles of diamond (nanodiamonds) are responsible for the mysterious source of microwaves across the Milky Way.

Astronomers have always struggled over the exact source of a strange type of faint microwave light. The source comes from far across the Milky Way. They call this ‘glow’ of microwave light the anomalous microwave emission (AME).

However, this light comes from energy released by rapidly spinning nanoparticles. We are talking about bits of matter so small that they defy detection by ordinary microscopes.

“Though we know that some type of particle is responsible for this microwave light, its precise source has been a puzzle since it was first detected nearly 20 years ago,” said Jane Greaves, an astronomer at Cardiff University in Wales and lead author on a paper announcing this result in Nature Astronomy.


A series of observations with the National Science Foundation’s Green Bank Telescope (GBT) in West Virginia and the Australia Telescope Compact Array (ATCA), found that the microwaves emanate from the newly formed stars which are surrounded by vast quantities of diamond particles which rotate tens of billions of times per second.

So, this is the first time these telescopes point in on three clear sources of AME light, the protoplanetary disks surrounding the young stars known as V892 Tau, HD 97048, and MWC 297. The GBT observed V892 Tau and the ATCA observed the other two systems.

“This is the first clear detection of anomalous microwave emission coming from protoplanetary disks,” said David Frayer a coauthor on the paper and astronomer with the Green Bank Observatory.

The collection of dust and gas surrounding the baby stars, known as a protoplanetary disk, is where planets begin to form. And contains a whole host of organic molecules. The extremely hot and energized conditions within these disks are ideal for nanodiamonds to form.

At 0.75 to 1.1 millionths of a millimeter long, the diamond dust particles are vanishingly small. But Greaves estimates that stuck together, those around each star would weigh as much as the planet Mercury.

Nevertheless, evidence for nanodiamonds in protoplanetary disks has grown over the past several decades. This is, however, the first clear connection between nanodiamonds and AME in any setting.

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Thumbnail image: Artist’s impression of diamond dust. Credit: S. Dagnello.

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