Buckyballs much more common and abundant in universe than thought

Thursday, October 28, 2010

WASHINGTON - Using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, astronomers have discovered bucket loads of buckyballs in space.

They found the little carbon spheres throughout our Milky Way galaxy-in the space between stars and around three dying stars.

What’s more, Spitzer detected buckyballs around a fourth dying star in a nearby galaxy in staggering quantities-the equivalent in mass to about 15 of our Moons.

Buckyballs, also known as fullerenes, are soccer-ball-shaped molecules consisting of 60 linked carbon atoms.

They are named for their resemblance to the architect Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes, an example of which is found at the entrance to Disney’s Epcot theme park in Orlando, Fla.

The miniature spheres were first discovered in a lab on Earth 25 years ago, but it wasn’t until this past July that Spitzer was able to provide the first confirmed proof of their existence in space.

At that time, scientists weren’t sure if they had been lucky to find a rare supply, or if perhaps the cosmic balls were all around.

“It turns out that buckyballs are much more common and abundant in the universe than initially thought,” said astronomer Letizia Stanghellini of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Tucson, Ariz.

“Spitzer had recently found them in one specific location, but now we see them in other environments. This has implications for the chemistry of life. It’s possible that buckyballs from outer space provided seeds for life on Earth.”

Stanghellini is co-author of a new study appearing online Oct. 28 in the Astrophysical Journal Letters. (ANI)

Filed under: Science and Technology

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