World’s Largest Known Diamond Deposit Was Formed When an Asteroid Slammed Into the Earth a Long Time Ago

The world’s largest known diamond deposit — containing trillions of carats — lies at the bottom of the Popigai Crater in a remote part of northern Siberia.

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Scientists believe the crater was formed 35 million years ago when an asteroid 3 to 5 miles across slammed into the Earth with such velocity that it ripped a 63-mile-wide gash in the landscape. The impact produced an energy burst equivalent to millions of nuclear weapons and generated temperatures hotter than the surface of the sun, according to geology.com.

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Under this intense heat and pressure, the limestones, marbles, dolomites and other carbon-bearing rocks in the impact zone were instantly melted and transformed into diamond.

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Before you book your next trip to Siberia to prospect for what is estimated to be trillions of carats of diamonds, take note that just about all of them are of industrial quality. Most are tiny yellow-brown crystals, although some can be up to a half-inch in size.

None are suitable for jewelry, unless your significant other has an unusual affection for blemished, off-color diamonds. Popigai diamonds are valued at about $12 per carat, according to Popular Mechanics, and are strewn over such a wide and remote area that they offer little commercial value. Today, nearly all of the diamonds used in the U.S. for industrial purposes, such as coating saw blades and drill tips, are synthetic and lab-produced in vast quantities.

Interestingly, the Russian government had known about the huge trove of diamonds buried under the surface of the crater since the 1970s, but kept it a secret until a 2012. The Popigai Crater has been designated by UNESCO as a Geopark, a site of special geological heritage.

Credits: Asteroid illustration via NASA; Popigai Crater image via NASA, public domain; Google Maps.

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