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Scientists may have discovered some clues to two vastly different anomalies. Microscopic diamonds inside of meteors, and why ancient black holes are so massive.

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Meterorites are incredibly valuable to planetary scientists because right now they're basically the only bits of the solar system that we get to touch that are not like earth bits or moon bits. But interpreting them is kind of like being a cosmic crime scene investigator. Each step of a meteroite's journey from the collision that knocked it towards earth, to it's violent impact with the ground has shaped it physically and chemically.

So disentangling what bumps and bruises came from which event is huge in unlocking a meteorites most valuable secrets. And last week in a paper published in the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, an international team unearthed a new clue about the origin of one of the most important groups of meteorites. That clue? Microscopic layers hidden within nano diamonds.

The paper investigates meteorites called uralites. For more than a hundred years astronomers have known that many of these space rocks contain oodles of microscopic diamonds. But before you get too excited know that these diamonds are seriously small. In some samples they can be less than 20 nanometers across, which is dozens of times smaller than the smallest bacteria. 

Still, planetary scientists have long puzzled over where they came from, because diamonds don't just pop into existence. They require tremendous pressure to form. In fact, past studies have suggested that ureilite nano diamonds may have required pressures of up to 20 gigapascals. That's reachable only through large, like mercury or mars sized, protoplanets. Which is like a developing planet. So many researchers have proposed that that's where urelites came from; a single parent body like a protoplanet that's long since broken up. But this new paper digs deeper.

In it, the researcher analyzed three uralite samples and they found some of the largest meteoric diamonds ever, with some ranging up to a tenth of a millimeter across. But they also found lonsdaleite, a type of diamond where the carbon atoms are arranged a little differently. And that's big news because lonsdaleite doesn't form through long periods of steady pressure like you'd find in a protoplanet, it forms through brief moments of extreme stress.

On top of that the researchers found that other minerals i the meteorites also seem to have experienced intense pressure shocks. Now every meteorite lives through at least one point of shock when it smacks into the ground, but these rocks would vaporize before reaching a high enough pressure to form diamonds. So according to the authors, the most likely explanation here is that ureilites and their diamonds didn't just form inside some parent body. They formed because of a collision between that body and something else. This scenario means that the original body could have been smaller than Mercury or Mars, since the collision itself would create really large pressures.

And that's an important clue in understanding what sorts of objects were floating around in the early solar system. We know there had to be planet-sized objects out there because like they're still here but how many there were is still up for debate. And this discovery suggests it could've been fewer than we think.

In other news we also got some clues to a different cosmic mystery recently, how the first supermassive black holes got to be so massive. The news came from a paper published on September 10th in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics. In it, scientists reported that they'd been studying the environment around an ancient supermassive black hole and they found something exciting.

The black hole was surrounded by a web of galaxies and that could help us learn how this thing formed in the first place. Overall the existence of supermassive black holes in the early universe is an enduring mystery. Take the one studied in this paper for example. It's so far away and it's light has taken so long to get to us that we're seeing it as it looked just 900 million years after the big bang.
But already it's around a billion times more massive than the Sun. That's one heck of an appetite and we're not sure how that would happen.

One idea is that black holes just collapse directly from giant clouds of gas and dust in the early universe. Another is that they start small
and grow by merging with other black holes. And a third is that a small black hole grows not just through mergers, but by pulling in the material around them. That's the hypothesis best supported by
this new paper.

See the supermassive black hole they studied isn't just surrounded by six galaxies, those galaxies are embedded in an enormous region
dense with gas. It has a diameter more than 300 times larger than the Milky Way, and computer models suggest all that gas is organized in long web-like filaments. Then it's all held together by the powerful gravity of a trillion solar masses of dark matter.

The six satellite galaxies likely grew where the strands of gas intersect forming new stars out of the abundant material. And the black hole is probably also at the intersection of the web, meaning gas flowing along it can get funneled right into it, helping it grow. And that would explain how it got so massive so fast.

But that said, discoveries like these are also at the outer limits of what modern telescopes can observe, so astronomers will need to find more of these structures before they're sure that this hypothesis is the right one. Still overall this week really highlights the enormous range of astronomy, from diamonds a few billionths of a meter wide, to webs trillions of times larger than the Sun. And it's a reminder that despite everything we know, there is still a lot to learn.

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