Russia

A Crater Full of Diamonds

by Jenny McGlone
Chapel Hill, NC, United States

If you could close your eyes and imagine the largest number possible of some small item, what would it be? A mountain of pebbles? A football stadium full of pennies? An ocean of paper clips?

What if that huge amount of something was diamonds? And if the value of that pile of diamonds was a number in the quadrillions, then you would probably be pretty amazed, right?

A Treasure Trove

In Russia, way up north in the harsh Yakutia region of Siberia, at latitude 71 degrees 39 minutes North, longitude 111 degrees 11 minutes East, lies a reserve of diamonds that multiplies the world’s current known stocks by a factor of 10. Located in the Popigai Crater, these trillions of carats are enough to supply the entire planet with diamonds for the next 3,000 years. Moreover, the diamonds are twice as hard as the typical, mined gemstone, making them most valuable in scientific and industrial realms.

Origins

Geologists believe that this bonanza of diamonds was formed 35 million years ago when an asteroid crashed into the earth, creating a crater that is 62 miles in diameter. These impact diamonds resulted from the collision of a large, high-velocity object and a carbon-based graphite deposit. When the 4-mile-wide asteroid slammed into the Earth, graphite in the ground would have been instantaneously transformed into diamond within an 8.5 mile radius. In addition to being harder, the resulting stones have a different structure than the kind you would see in jewelry.

Digging for Diamonds

The diamond field was uncovered in the 1970s by gulag prisoners digging mines for Stalin. It was kept secret because, at that time, the former Soviet Union had already invested heavily in the production of industrial diamonds and did not want to flood the market.

In September 2012, Russia declassified its discovery in order to capitalize on the increasing demand for super-hard diamonds in various technological pursuits such as nuclear fusion. Geologists are studying the feasibility of mining the impact diamonds, so it will be years before they appear on the market.

If you’re looking for a bargain on an engagement ring, these impact stones are unlikely to help you. However, if you need a super-hard diamond for your laser or turbine, you may be in luck!

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Math Questions

  1. How many zeros are in one trillion? Write this number in scientific notation.
  2. Draw a circle that represents the crater. Now calculate how much of that circle contains diamonds. Shade that one differently. What percentage of the crater contains diamonds?
  3. If the crater has a diameter of 62 miles, what is the area of the circle it encompasses? What would those measurements be in kilometers? (Thank you to Bradley for suggesting this question!)

Write your own math question and submit it here

Social Justice Question

Research the Stalin regime in the USSR. What sorts of social justice questions do you have after learning about this period in history?

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Resources

  1. Feature article on the discovery
  2. An article that disputes some of the news reports on this subject

Find a resource you think is helpful and submit it here