Diamonds are the hardest material on our planet. Well, the hardest one we’ve found so far, anyway. They’re so hard that only a diamond can scratch another diamond. Crazy, right?
But that kind of reputation brings in a lot of questions. What does it take to destroy a diamond? Could an explosion do any damage to a diamond? Would you be able to crack one open with a strong enough impact?
There are many contenders, don’t get us wrong.
But among all of them, there’s one that stands out in our eyes. Well, at least it stood out while we were researching these kinds of topics.
The contender that we’re most interested in is lava.
So, can lava destroy a diamond?
It’s an interesting proposition, one must admit. But to put it lightly, diamonds need a lot of heat and pressure to form. So, with that in mind, would the heat from molten lava do any significant damage to them?
Let’s find out!
Can Lava Destroy A Diamond?
The straight answer to this question is – well, not so straight, after all. Can lava destroy a diamond? Yes – and also no.
It doesn’t matter how big or small it is; a diamond will most likely be fine if it finds itself floating around in lava.
A much better question here would be what does it mean to destroy a diamond. And answering that question might just be a bit more complicated than it seems.
We imagine a couple of things when we hear the word “destroy.” When an object is destroyed, it usually means that it broke apart. Maybe it melts – or even evaporates? There are a couple of possibilities to consider here.
So, let’s say that we’re talking about a diamond breaking apart into a myriad of pieces. Could it happen? Unfortunately, no, it’s just not possible.
Another point goes to Earth’s hardest material!
For something to break apart, there usually needs to be a force that will make the object go from one into multiple pieces. Usually, it means that the object’s elastic properties reached a breaking point, which resulted in the material becoming suddenly hard and rigid.
Imagine a plastic ruler that you’ve bent just a bit too much when you were a kid. Yeah, we’ve all done it.
But what are the elastic properties of a diamond?
Well, that’s the thing: Diamonds have no elastic properties; breaking them apart can only be done if they’re suddenly met with a considerable amount of force that has nowhere to go.
That causes the object to break into multiple parts so that the force can be spread equally. The stronger the force, the more parts there will be.
And while that’s a nice idea, there is really no sudden force that a diamond can encounter while floating in lava.
We know it’s not looking good.
There is one more thing that would cause the material to break apart – and that’s an extreme change in temperature.
Glass, for instance, breaks apart if it has been cooled down and then suddenly heated up to the initial temperature. The temperature changes are too fast, so the material breaks to relieve the stress of sudden expansion and contraction.
Well, now we’re getting somewhere!
Let’s say that we drop a diamond in lava. Would the sudden temperature change make it pop?
Well, there will be a change in temperature inside the diamond, but because they’re so durable, it will seem as if there’s no change whatsoever.
In extremely high temperatures, diamonds can melt, though. However, melting a diamond is a complicated issue, so we’ll get back to it in a minute.
What Is Lava Exactly?
Alright, so, what is lava, anyways?
We can all see it as soon as we hear the word: It’s orange and boiling over, slowly flowing down a volcano. While we’re at it, what the heck are volcanos? And how is this not enough for us to see some diamond destruction?
Don’t worry; we’ll explain everything.
Lava is basically just melted rocks, nothing more. Well, “nothing more” would be an understatement, so we take that back. It’s what the Earth’s core is made of, after all!
See, the temperature gets higher the closer to the core you get. And our planet is – to nobody’s surprise – one big rock. That means that inside Earth, at its very core, the rocks are constantly in a liquid state, glowing around in a ball of hot lava. The temperatures are so high that it’s pretty much impossible for them to solidify.
Until they manage to escape the Earth’s core and somehow reach the surface, that is. So, how do they do that?
Volcanoes, that’s how. Through these volcanoes, the lava shoots out onto the surface, where it will eventually cool down and solidify again.
But let’s get something straight: Even when it gets to the surface, it still takes lava quite a bit to cool down enough in order to go back to a solid-state.
The temperature of this liquefied rock is about 700-800 degrees Celsius on average, while the highest point that it can reach is approximately 1200 to 1300 degrees.
Which is incredibly hot and dangerous – just not hot enough to affect a diamond.
But with all that said, those temperatures must do something to a diamond. Okay, yes, it’s the hardest material in the world, but it’s impossible for it to just not be fazed by a staggering 1000 degrees Celsius, right?
Learn More: Can You Find Diamonds In Lava Rock?
Can Lava Melt Diamond?
We usually think of two things when speaking of high temperatures: combustion and melting. So, what’s what?
Well, they’re both chemical reactions, but only the latter can happen to a diamond. That’s right; a diamond can melt!
It does seem strange, but the science backs up our claim. The problem is, the lava just isn’t hot enough to do it.
See, melting a diamond is not an easy task. You’ll probably hear a couple of things when trying to find an answer to this question.
First of all, diamonds have a melting point – and it’s 4000 degrees Celsius. When we compare this number to the temperature of lava, it’s almost ridiculous to continue the research.
But we made it this far, haven’t we?
Now, that number technically is the melting point of a diamond, but it’s not a number that’s valid on our planet. Let us explain.
Diamonds will start to melt at 4000 degrees if – and only if – they are in an atmosphere with no oxygen. Now, this poses a bit of a problem because we happen to have quite a bit of oxygen around.
So, what’s the melting point of diamonds with all this oxygen? Well, you won’t like the answer if you’ve been rooting for the lava so far.
Diamonds need to be heated up to 7000 degrees for them to start melting.
So, no matter how much lava you get, it’s just not hot enough!
But there might be something else we can do to tip the scales in the molten rocks favor. See, while diamonds can’t melt in lava, there is a way to make them vaporize.
That’s right, the hardest material in the world can vaporize – and it can do it at around 700 degrees Celsius.
That is pretty great news, considering that 700 degrees happen to be the starting point of the lava temperature scale. But why do diamonds vaporize? And how is it possible, anyways?
Well, remember all that oxygen that we have in the atmosphere?
Because diamonds are only made of carbon, if they’re heated enough, that carbon can start reacting with the oxygen that surrounds them. So, all those tough carbon atoms go from a solid crystal structure and vaporize to become carbon monoxide.
The lava is victorious!
But it might still be strange to imagine a diamond turning to vapor. We get it; it’s not something you see every day. But the science behind this phenomenon is quite simple.
See, when we expose any material to heat, the atoms that it’s made of start to vibrate more and more. What heat is really just a bunch of atoms vibrating more and more – and any other atoms they encounter will start vibrating, too.
That’s why there’s no life at temperatures of absolute zero – well, in theory, at least. The atoms are completely still at absolute zero, which makes that condition impossible in the real world.
So, the carbon atoms in a diamond – even though they’re tightly packed in a diamond structure – get exposed to a lot of heat (vibration). They vibrate enough to separate from the crystal bond that they have with the other carbon atoms and team up with oxygen.
So, lava CAN destroy a diamond. It may not be able to blow it up or break it up into a million parts. But vaporizing something is a pretty tough thing to do if you ask us!
Learn More: What Can Destroy A Diamond?
Can Lava Bring Diamonds To The Surface?
That is an interesting proposition. In theory, it makes perfect sense. Let’s say a diamond forms underneath the Earth’s crust. To be more precise, let’s say that it forms in an area that will, at some point in the future, turn to lava.
Diamonds are, after all, made in the Earth’s crust – which is, to put it simply, just a bunch of rocks.
So, if the rocks that contain diamonds start melting, and turn to lava, could that lava end up on the surface? Because if it can – it would mean that it can essentially bring diamonds up to the surface.
We know that lava doesn’t get to the surface safely and calmly, so we’re not talking about a new type of acquiring diamonds.
But it still is a great question. Well, the answer is yes! But it can’t be any type of lava – which means that it can’t be any type of rock, either. To be precise, there is only one rock that we managed to find that can both contain diamonds and melt into lava and end up on the surface.
That rock is called a kimberlite.
The temperature of the lava rarely gets too high; it will usually stick to the lower end of the lava-hotness scale. That means that if a big enough diamond manages to form inside the rock, it will pretty much stay intact while on its journey to the surface.
Why Are Diamonds So Durable?
Alright, so the diamonds have been defeated. It seems the hardest material on Earth is no match for molten lava.
But you have to admit; it takes a lot to make all that carbon move. So, what is it about diamonds – and their structure – that makes them so durable?
Heck, it takes a melted rock that has a temperature of 700+ degrees Celsius to take them down!
Well, while diamonds have a simple structure, they’re incredibly dense. They were formed under extreme conditions below the Earth’s surface, after all. And while diamonds are pretty common, the process that they need to complete still takes thousands of years!
The reason that there are so many of them on our planet is simple: There’s a lot of carbon around.
It also helps that there are only two of those extreme conditions needed for their formation – pressure and heat. Well, a LOT of pressure and heat is needed, and luckily there’s a lot going on beneath the surface of our planet in that department.
In these conditions, the carbon atoms bond together in a crystal structure. But we’re not talking about a couple of atoms here.
Diamonds are incredibly dense, which is what gives them that durability we were talking about a moment ago. There’s a lot of carbon packed in a small package. That means that their bond is incredibly strong. It’s the only thing that makes diamonds different from other crystals.
And it’s no small difference, might we add: There’s a reason why diamonds are used for industrial purposes, too, and not only for jewelry. We do admit, though – the jewelry kind is obviously the preferred choice. That structure and density are even more interesting when you consider the fact that diamonds are translucent.
Sure, not every gemstone in the world is perfectly pure and shiny, but a lot of them are.
So, how can light still find its way through such dense materials? With all those atoms potentially stopping it in its tracks, how is it that they manage to reflect and refract so much light?
Well, that we can thank the structure for: There’s a major difference between other hard materials and diamonds, and that is that they’re arranged in a crystallized position. This type of incredibly efficient structure can disperse force perfectly – and let some light through in the process.
So, there you have it! Can lava destroy a diamond? While diamonds are the hardest material in the world, they’re no match for one chemical reaction – oxidation.
Now, we can’t really consider this a weakness; they still are extremely fascinating. But the next time you see a nicely cut translucent diamond on a pretty necklace, remember: It takes a melted rock that’s heated to 700 degrees Celsius to take that thing down!
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