Or, How Else Can Two Bazillion Months' Salary Last Forever?

Though they've assumed it for the last four decades, scientists--probably not the exact same scientists, given one of the two certain things in life--have only just recently verified that De Beers is either going to have to significantly expand their operations, or finally face some serious competition from an off-world market rival.

And earth-men everywhere are going to have to face up to the fact that once this gets out, that 1/2 carat crystal chip you got up at 47th Street just isn't going to cut it.

The New Diamond District

Fifty light-years above Australia, in the constellation of Centaurus, next to the Southern Cross, a white dwarf star offically named BPM 37093 has been pulsing, and for the last eight years, astronomers from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics to the Mount Stromlo Observatory near Canberra have been watching it.

A white dwarf is what one gets when a small to medium size star--up to the size of our own--finally decides to get out of the heat and light business. As it runs out of fuel for the ongoing nuclear holocaust that you and I call "mostly sunny," it expels most of its outer material, leaving a very hot core that cools down over the next billion or so years.

And then, if you're a large and ruthless South African mining consortium, a Queen of the British Empire, or Marilyn Monroe, things start to get interesting.

Under Pressure

Without the means to generate internal outward pressure, and having a density that averages 200,000 times that of earth, gravity has free reign to do what it does best--crush stuff.

But crush what, you ask? A white dwarf's atmosphere is generally a combination of helium and hydrogen; nothing too exciting there. But the heavier elements left over from all that fusion sink towards the core.

One of those elements is oxygen. The other, and much more lucrative, is carbon. And all you jeweler's eyeglass-wearing international ice smugglers know what happens to carbon under unfathomable pressure. On earth, it crystallizes into relatively tiny bits of impressively overpriced ornamentation and industrial sandpaper components. At the core of a cool white dwarf, it crystallizes into a diamond the size of an entire planet.

So, at the center of BPM 37093, or Lucy, as it's been nicknamed for slightly imperfect reasons, is a 10 billion trillion trillion carat diamond. That's a 1 with 34 zeros, 2.27 thousand trillion trillion tons. The largest diamond on earth is the comparatively pathetic Star of Africa, a British crown jewel weighing in at a measly 530 carats.

Devaluing the Currency

By studying Lucy's regular pulses, the astrogeologists were able to do an analysis of its interior, much in the same way that the less head-in-the-clouds types do for earth based on seismic activity. They concluded that Lucy is, in effect, the largest diamond in the known galaxy.

Diamonds aren't exactly rare on earth, and certainly Lucy isn't the only one in the sky. White dwarfism is the way out for above 95% of the stars in the galaxy, research suggests--it is only reasonable to believe that many if not most of them may have diamond cores as well.

Our own sun, in five billion years or so, will seriously be considering retirement. It's going to commemorate the death of the solar system in grand style.