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Mysteries Behind Interstellar Buckyballs Finally Answered

19 Nov 2019, 10:00 UTC
Mysteries Behind Interstellar Buckyballs Finally Answered
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Scientists have long been puzzled by the existence of so-called "buckyballs" - complex carbon molecules with a soccer-ball-like structure - throughout interstellar space. Now, a team of researchers from the University of Arizona has proposed a mechanism for their formation in a study published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.Carbon 60, or C60 for short, whose official name is Buckminsterfullerene, comes in spherical molecules consisting of 60 carbon atoms organized in five-membered and six-membered rings. The name "buckyball" derives from their resemblance to the architectural work of Richard Buckminster Fuller, who designed many dome structures that look similar to C60. Their formation was thought to only be possible in lab settings until their detection in space challenged this assumption.For decades, people thought interstellar space was sprinkled with lightweight molecules only: mostly single atoms, two-atom molecules and the occasional nine or 10-atom molecules. This was until massive C60 and C70 molecules were detected a few years ago.Researchers were also surprised to find that that they were composed of pure carbon. In the lab, C60 is made by blasting together pure carbon sources, such as graphite. In space, C60 was detected in planetary nebulae, which are the debris of dying stars. This environment ...

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