By Chris Tormos – Staff Writer
The Russian government recently declassified the 30-year-old discovery of a 35-million-year-old, 60-mile-wide diamond field; remnants of an asteroid crater in eastern Siberia known as the Popigai Astroblem. Upon its discovery in the 1970s, the USSR was already producing immense profits within a rigidly controlled global diamond market, so the resources went officially unreported to the world. The As a result of heavy investment into the artificial industrial diamond industry, the Soviets essentially ground natural industrial diamond research to a halt until recently.
The diamond field of Popigai may be unique to the world, but the effects of asteroid collisions in relation to the creation of diamonds have been thoroughly investigated. According to geologists, asteroids repeatedly hit the Earth’s surface with extremely high speeds, producing the massive amounts of energy necessary to create diamonds. As the asteroid enters the Earth’s atmosphere, it can be traveling at 9 to 12 miles per second, creating the energy impact equivalent of millions of nuclear weapons and temperatures hotter than sun’s surface. The area center of the impact endures temperatures too hot for any formation to occur, but surrounding the impact zone, more than adequate conditions occur for diamond formation.
Although the discovery seems promising for the jewelry market, the diamonds found at Popigai may have a different fate than on the fingers of the wealthy. The majority of mined diamonds are found unsuitable for the jewelry market and fulfill other uses such as drill bits, cutting tools, high performance bearings, even diamond powder can be used as an abrasive. According to the Information Telegraph Agency of Russia (ITAR), “the diamonds found at Popigai are ‘twice as hard’ as the usual gemstones, making them ideal for industrial and scientific uses.” With the combination of the seemingly endless supply of diamonds from Popigai and the exponentially increasing computer science field, we may be entering a new age of supercomputers. Discovery News states, “Scientists have used commercially available technology to pattern large sheets of diamonds with tiny, nitrogen-filled holes. Such sheets could store millions of times more information than current silicon-based systems and process that information dozens of times faster.”
Diamonds such as these could mean much more than uploading Facebook pictures faster, it could revolutionize drug development as well. Through the use of diamonds, synchrotron light is used to create the beams of light necessary to study the proteins used to treat a number of ailments. Elements Science.com states, “The results have helped make drugs for breast cancer, ovarian cancer, HIV and any number of diseases that affect huge numbers in the developing world.”
While trillions of carats in industrial diamonds would ease the direst financial strain, there have been some issues procuring the prized mineral. The remote location and distance from any roads or railways created a constant struggle to remain cost-effective. Surrounded by endless miles of permafrost and uninhabitable tundra, the shiny crater tantalizes those daring enough to seek out its riches among the desert of ice and snow.