Astronomers are excited! They thought they’d found buckyballs (buckminster fullerenes) in some stars about 15 years ago but that finding still hasn’t been confirmed with laboratory data. Meanwhile, a new team including Jan Cami from the University of Western Ontario (Canada) and the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute in Mountainview, California recently made an unexpected discovery—buckyballs—while examining a planetary nebula (remains of a star shedding its outer layer of gas and dust as it ages). According to the news item on physorg.com,
“We found what are now the largest molecules known to exist in space,” said astronomer Jan Cami of the University of Western Ontario, Canada, and the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif. “We are particularly excited because they have unique properties that make them important players for all sorts of physical and chemical processes going on in space.” Cami has authored a paper about the discovery that will appear online Thursday [July 29, 2010?] in the journal Science.
Buckyballs are made of 60 carbon atoms arranged in three-dimensional, spherical structures. Their alternating patterns of hexagons and pentagons match a typical black-and-white soccer ball. The research team also found the more elongated relative of buckyballs, known as C70, for the first time in space. These molecules consist of 70 carbon atoms and are shaped more like an oval rugby ball. Both types of molecules belong to a class known officially as buckminsterfullerenes, or fullerenes.
You can also find the news item at Nanowerk where an alternative video clip (featuring an interview with Jan Cami discussing buckyballs) to the the silent animation featuring buckyballs and their movement available on the physorg.com site.
The folks at Rice University must be thrilled since proof of the existence of buckyballs on this planet is strongly associated with discoveries made by scientists at Rice (my May 13, 2010 posting provides a fuller picture of some of the twists and turns associated with that science story).