Should De Beers be worried?
It may sound like a story straight out of the lurid pulp sci fi novels of the 1950s and 1960s, but this story is all too true: a new planet named 55 Cancri e is made mostly of diamonds.
The 55 Cancri solar system is located a mere 40 light years from our own, and it is extremely rich in carbon. It is part of the constellation of Cancer, and is visible with the naked eye on a clear night.
55 Cancri e is the innermost planet, zipping around its star at a surprising clip, with a solar year that is a mere 18 hours long. This close to its sun, the surface temperatures of the planet average around 3,900 degrees Fahrenheit. 55 Cancri e is twice as big around as Earth, and has eight times the mass. The immense pressures and high temperatures mean that 55 Cancri e has converted an estimated third of its mass into diamond.
It would not be an easy matter to mine 55 Cancri e, even if we overcame the hurdle of faster-than-light travel. The surface temperatures are hot enough to melt metal, and it is constantly bathed in intense solar radiation that would make it impossible for a life form (like ourselves) to get near the planet.
At current diamond prices, Forbes estimates that the diamond planet would be worth $26.9 nonillion; 384 quadrillion times the amount of Earth's GDP for an entire year. But even if it could be mined, the resulting treasure trove would surely be worthless by the time it was brought back to Earth. Diamonds are only valuable because of their scarcity. And even that is a false scarcity, an illusion maintained by the De Beers diamond company which warehouses untold billions of carats of diamonds in order to carefully maintain prices on the market.
Even De Beers, with all the resources at its disposal, would have a difficult time buying and hiding an entire Earth-sized planet made of diamond. But since diamonds (unlike oil or drinking water) have no inherent value, bringing a huge planet-sized chunk of diamond back to Earth would only guarantee that all diamonds would instantly become worthless.
De Beers is one of the most powerful cartels operating on Earth. Surely they would extend their cartel into space, once space travel becomes possible. In the past ten years, De Beers has pled guilty to charges of price fixing the price of industrial grade diamonds to the U.S. government, and has settled several class action lawsuits regarding price fixing gem diamonds as well. The company swears it has cleaned up its act, but is anyone really buying it?