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30,000 Diamonds Found in One Small Rock

Dec 17, 2014 02:52 PM EST

If diamonds truly are a girl's best friend, an unusual formation recently found in Russia may be the friendliest rock in the world. The rock, small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, was found to contain a stunning 30,000 tiny diamonds and could provide important clues to Earth's geologic history.

The rock, discovered in Russia's massive Udachnaya diamond mine, was handed off to geology and earth science experts soon after it was unearthed. That's because the tiny diamonds it contains are far too small to have any worth as cut and polished gems.

However, Larry Taylor, a geologist at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, told his peers at American Geophysical Union's fall meeting that the rock's value to science cannot be denied.

"It's like they formed instantaneously," he said when presenting the sample Monday - a stunning revelation as the thousands of perfect octahedrons within the rock amount to a diamond concentration that is millions of times greater than what is found in a typical diamond ore sample.

Taylor recently told Live Science that what makes the rock most fascinating is that while diamond structure is understood well enough to be made in a lab, the detailed secrets of its natural formation "remain an enigma." What's more, he suspects experts would be hard-pressed to create this diamond sample in a lab.

"The associations of minerals will tell us something about the genesis of this rock, which is a strange one indeed," he said.

The researcher and his colleagues, who conducted an intensive X-ray analysis of the rock, suspect that it is an incredibly rare example of mantle material that somehow survived its trip to the surface.

During sub-surface diamond formation, intense heat and pressure help to mold carbon into crystallized structures. Experts have long suspected that the layer between the crust and core of the Earth is probably laced with countless tiny diamonds. However, sub-surface shifts and volcanic activity will only bring the largest of the incredibly sturdy raw gems to the surface, with the associated mantle rock disintegrating during the trip.

This exotic rock, which not only sparkles, but also blushes with the reds and greens of minerals, could be one such mantle piece, and an important hint at the chemical nature of what occurs far below our feet.

Taylor recently announced that the full analysis will be published in a special issue of Russian Geology and Geophysics next month (January 2015).

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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