Diamonds Are Not Formed from Coal

diamondToday is Tuesday, May 28, 2013.

A diamond is just a piece of charcoal that handled stress exceptionally well. –Anonymous

Most of us have either heard or read this quote, and it does seem like a wonderful analogy for a person who handles stress well, but I’m going to have to burst your bubble on this one, because as it turns out, diamonds are most generally not formed from coal. This information really intrigued me, and when I checked it out, it was a great review for me, since I took a course in geology in college.

Yes, coal is carbon, and so are diamonds, but they don’t come from the same place.  Scientists now know that diamonds are much  older than earth’s first land plants, which we know are the source of coal.   Besides that, coal seams are sedimentary rock that occurs in horizontal rock units, typically buried no more than 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) below the surface.  Sedimentary rocks, as you may know, are formed from layers, or sediments, of material that are under pressure.  Coal is a type of organic sedimentary rock.   Diamonds, however, are located in vertical pipes filled with igneous rocks.  Igneous rocks are formed by the solidification of molten material, liquid rock.  They come in two types: those that solidify below earth’s surface and those that solidify after being brought up to the surface in a volcanic eruption.  Diamonds are not rocks, they’re minerals, but they are typically surrounded by these igneous rocks.

According to an article on the website, most diamonds – nearly 100% of the diamonds that have ever been mined – are formed deep in the magma of the earth, in a special, stable zone located about 90 miles (150 kilometers) below earth’s surface.  Fortunately for our analogy, it still does take very high temperatures (at least 2000˚F or 1050˚C) and pressures.   Geologists think the best place for diamonds to form are under the center of continental plates.  Since they are so far under the surface, we might never have found them if they weren’t brought to the surface by a special process known as deep source volcanic eruptions.  It appears, therefore, that we have volcanoes to thank for our diamonds, rather than coal.   These deep source eruptions are so rare that one has not occurred since scientists became able to recognize them. 

There are three other processes by which diamonds can be formed, but they are rare.  One process occurs when one tectonic plate moves under another one and is subjected to pressure.  It sometimes happens that part of the oceanic crust (ocean floor) slides under the crust of a continental land mass.  Diamonds that form in this way tend to be very tiny, and coal is most probably not a source of carbon for these diamonds.

Some diamonds may also be formed when a large asteroid strikes the earth, which is, fortunately for us, a rare event.  Tiny industrial diamonds that have been mined in an impact crater in Siberia, Russia, as well as tiny diamonds found at craters in Arizona are thought to have been formed this way. Since they are formed at the surface of the earth, it is possible that coal could be involved in the diamonds’ formation.

NASA says that they have found tiny nanodiamonds in some meteorites.  (By now, most of you have probably realized that the prefix “nano” in front of a word means “extremely small.”)  These cannot possibly be formed from coal, as their carbon source comes from some other planet.

So there you have it.  A diamond is not just a special piece of charcoal.  However, diamonds are still material that has been subjected to great heat, pressure and stress, and has turned into something beautiful, so our basic analogy is sound, as long as we take out the “charcoal” part.

How do you handle stress?  Do you go to pieces or try to keep your cool?  Do you completely depend on others for help, or do you try to solve your problems on your own as much as you can?   Have you grown as a result of handling stress?  Have you learned to manifest any qualities, such as patience, perseverance, adaptability, resilience, faith, optimism, a sense of purpose, tenacity, love, empathy, ingenuity, flexibility, or the ability to prioritize, control your emotions, and make quick decisions on the basis of limited data with help from your intuition?

People who hone these qualities in themselves are the true diamonds of this world.   Seek them out and learn from them.  🙂



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2 responses to “Diamonds Are Not Formed from Coal

  1. Pingback: Creativity, Innovation and Change: Spare Diamonds | MMaherBlog

  2. Thanks for the detailed explanation!

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