Solid buckyballs found in space. The
carbon molecules have been seen stacking together near stars. This
is the first time buckyballs have been spotted in solid form.
Buckyballs in Space.
Spitzer Space Telescope has revealed solid stacks of 'buckyballs'
in space. Previously, the football-shaped microscopic spheres of
60 carbon atoms - formally called buckminsterfullerene - had only
been found in interstellar space in a gaseous form.
Using Spitzer, Nye Evans from
Keele University and his colleagues discovered the particles
around X X Ophiuchi, a pair of stars that lie 6,500 light years
Although the stacks are much
narrower than human hair, they contain millions of buckyballs. The
astronomers detected enough of them to fill a volume equivalent to
10,000 Mount Everests.
Buckyballs were detected
definitively in space for the first time by Spitzer in 2010.
Spitzer later identified the molecules in a host of different
cosmic environments. It even found them in staggering quantities,
the equivalent in mass to 15 Earth moons, in a nearby galaxy
called the Small Magellanic Cloud.
In all of those cases, the molecules were in the form of gas. The
recent discovery of buckyballs particles means that large
quantities of these molecules must be present in some stellar
environments in order to link up and form solid particles. The
research team was able to identify the solid form of buckyballs in
the Spitzer data because they emit light in a unique way that
differs from the gaseous form.
Buckyballs are microscopic
spheres, where 60 carbon atoms are arranged — with alternating
patterns of hexagons and pentagons — into a football-like pattern.
The unusual structure makes them incredibly strong and ideal
candidates for things like superconducting materials, medicines,
water purification and armor.
They got their name because of their resemblance to the geodesic
domes of the architect Buckminster Fuller.
So far, they’ve only been found in gas form in space. In 2010,
astronomers using the Spitzer space telescope found the balls in a
planetary nebula called Tc 1.
But with this latest discovery, again using data from NASA’s
Spitzer space telescope, astronomers found particles consisting of
stacked buckyballs. They had stacked together like oranges in a
crate to form a solid shape.
“The particles we detected are minuscule, far smaller than the
width of a hair, but each one would contain stacks of millions of
buckyballs,” said the paper’s lead author Nye Evans of Keele
University in England.
The research team was able to identify the solid form of
buckyballs in the Spitzer data because they emit light in a unique
way that differs from the gaseous form. In all, the team detected
enough solid buckyballs to fill the equivalent in volume to 10,000
Did you know?
* Formally named
buckminsterfullerene, buckyballs are named after their resemblance
to the late architect Buckminster Fuller's geodesic domes. They
are made up of 60 carbon atoms arranged into a hollow sphere, like
a soccer ball. Their unusual structure makes them ideal candidates
for electrical and chemical applications on Earth, including
superconducting materials, medicines, water purification and
Buckyballs in Space Links:
NASA's Spitzer Finds Solid Buckyballs in Space:
by NASA's JPL (article dated 22 February 2012). Also source of
picture. Image credit:
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