By Marty Russell
Science fiction is littered with the corpses of invading aliens and the puny Earthlings who attempt to stand in their way. But what if the threat from “out there” wasn’t Little Green Men but greenbacks? What if the extraterrestrial menace wasn’t advanced technology but economics?
That scenario arose recently with the discovery of a planet not in a galaxy far, far away but relatively close to home, astronomically speaking. Scientists recently announced they had found a planet a mere 40 light years away composed almost entirely of diamonds. The discovery was made by a variety of scientific methods but the most compelling evidence was the detection of a DeBeers truck in its orbit. (DeBeers, not to be confused with Da Bears, is Earth’s largest diamond broker).
The planet, known as 55 Cancri e, orbits a star in the constellation Cancer and is approximately twice the size of the Earth. It’s made up almost entirely of carbon and diamond due to its extreme heat and atmospheric pressure, which is the same process that forms diamonds here on Earth.
Forbes magazine recently attempted to calculate the value of that much diamond and concluded that, if it could be mined, it would be worth about $26.9 nonillion. Now I was surprised because I thought no nillion was exactly how much money I had in the bank until the magazine explained that a nonillion is a one with 30 zeros after it. And here we are worried about a debt in the trillions when a trillion is simply a one with 12 zeros after it.
And speaking of debt, the magazine calculated that $26.9 nonillion would be the equivalent of 384 quadrillion times the entire gross domestic product of all the countries in the world. If you could mine just 0.0182 percent of the diamond on 55 Cancri e you could pay off the debts of all the governments in the world. Are you listening Greece?
But, of course, that’s assuming the value of diamond would remain the same as it currently is here on Earth. Diamonds are so expensive largely because of supply and demand. DeBeers, which controls at least half of the diamond market here on Earth, has been accused of keeping supplies low to keep prices high.
But what if there were suddenly an unlimited supply of diamonds and the asking price of a thousand dollars per carat suddenly became say a nickel per carat? The same would be true of any commodity. What if we discovered a planet made entirely of corn? Or cotton, just one big cotton ball in space we could pick chunks off at will? Too bad the moon is made of green cheese, which nobody wants to eat, instead of filet mignon. What would that do to the price of a good steak?
Such discoveries could be a boon or a bust, depending on your perspective. Me, I’m looking for that planet made of beer.
Marty Russell writes a Wednesday column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.