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Hold On to Those Diamonds

An old song says that "Diamonds are a girl's best friend," and if you've got some big ones around, that may be true, because geologists have found evidence that the Earth is no longer producing large diamonds. The ancient Romans thought diamonds were splinters from fallen stars, and the Ancient Greeks thought they were tears from the Gods. We know they form at great pressures at great depths from compressed carbon deposits. After they're formed, they're brought to the surface in magma from volcanoes. But much about the formation of diamonds remains mysterious.

Geologists have identified three generations of diamonds. The first generation was formed about 3.3 billion years ago, says geologist Steve Shirey. "The oldest diamonds are survivors from the Earth's earliest geological times and the oldest known rocks. We were able to identify where they came from under southern Africa."

The second generation of diamonds were formed slightly later, about 2.9 billion years ago. These are more widely scattered throughout a larger region of the Earth's mantle. These diamonds may have been formed in a slightly different way from first generation stones. From an analysis of impurities inside them, it?s believed they formed inside rocks that were originally in an ancient shallow sea. Somehow these rocks were pulled down to great depths where carbon deposits, possibly from living organisms, were heated and compressed to form diamonds.

Third generation diamonds formed about 1.2 billion years ago?and geologists aren?t sure how. But however they were formed, geologists think that the era of diamond formation is over. "We believe that the Earth is not forming as many or as big diamonds as it did billions of years ago," says Shirey. "Something was different then. Perhaps the planet was hotter on the inside, or the composition of the rocks was subtly different. Whatever it was it has changed now. Diamond formation was chiefly a feature of the Earth's youth."

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