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The mystery behind interstellar "bacilli" discovered by scientists | Science and Technology News



Scientists believe they understand how mysterious interstellar "buckyballs" actually form – complicated carbon molecules that appear scattered all over the space between stars.

The "Bakibols" themselves were officially named Buckminsterferen, after American futurist Buckminster Fuller and the suffix "no" proved to be unsaturated hydrocarbons.

Buckminster Fuller was responsible for a number of popular geodetic cupola designs that resemble the structure of a molecule – as does pentagonal and hexagonal football on its sides.

Architect stands before his creation, a geodetic dome that acts as an American pavilion at the 1967 World's Fair
Picture:
Buckminster Fuller stood in front of the surveying dome

In the scientific sense, the molecule is known as carbon 60 (C60) and is a spherical molecule composed of 60 carbon atoms, arranged in rings of five and six atoms.

Scientists have hypothesized that the vacuum of interstellar space has widespread only a few light molecules, mostly single or double molecules.

But a few years ago, there were huge complications of carbon molecules with 60 or 70 atoms in them – and surprisingly they were made purely from carbon atoms.

On Earth, lab environments are needed to create C60, with scientists emitting clean carbon sources, such as graphite.

In space, C60 is discovered in the nebulae, the remnants of a star-studded explosion – an environment containing 10,000 hydrogen molecules for each carbon molecule.

"Every hydrogen has to destroy the synthesis of fullerenes," explained Jacques Jacob Bernal, a doctoral student in astrobiology and chemistry at the University of Arizona, who is the lead author of the paper on "Bakibols."

"If you have a ball box and every 10,000 hydrogen balls you have one carbon and you shake them constantly, how likely are you to have 60 carbon sticks together? It's very unlikely."

392439 05: Image of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope from a huge, sculptured gas and dust landscape where thousands of stars are born, July 26, 2001. The star-forming region, called 30 Doradus Nebula, has the largest collection of massive stars in the nearest 25 galaxies. (NASA Photo courtesy / Getty Images)
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Molecules are formed in planetary nebula

Mr Bernal and his team discovered that the C60 was derived from silicon carbide dust in the nebulae.

This dust is hit by high temperatures, shock waves and high-energy particles, all of which work to release silicon from their surfaces and leave only carbon behind.

"These large molecules break up as dying stars eject their material into the interstellar medium – the spaces between the stars – which makes their presence outside of planetary nebulae count," the paper explains.

And because of their cleanliness and shape, buckyballs are highly resistant to radiation damage, allowing them to retain their shape and survive for billions of years if protected from the harsh environment of space.

"The conditions in the universe where we expect complex things to be destroyed are in fact the conditions that create them," Bernal said, adding that the implications of the findings are endless.

"If this mechanism forms C60, it is probably the formation of all kinds of carbon nanostructures," said co-author Professor Lucy Zuris.

"And, if you read the chemical literature, they are all considered to be synthetic materials made only in the lab, and yet the interstellar space makes them natural."


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