A few years ago, astronomers discovered complex carbon molecules — previously thought to be produced only in laboratory environments — floating in interstellar space,media reported. While it remains a mystery how these so-called Bucky balls formed, scientists at the University of Arizona are already trying to create them under space-like conditions, meaning people may know how they formed naturally between stars.
Carbon has all sorts of strange structures, but Buckminster Fullerene (baky ball) is one of the strangest. It consists of 60 carbon atoms arranged into a football-shaped lattice — hence the nickname “Bucky Ball” and the official name carbon 60 (C60). The structure, created in the lab in the 1980s, is thought to be too complex to exist in nature.
In 2010, however, the Spitzer Space Telescope detected the Bucky ball floating in interstellar space. Until then, it was thought that most molecules in space were small and simple, so it was a big surprise to find a molecule made up of 60 atoms.
The discovery of the Bucky ball in the planetary nebula may provide a clue to its origin, but strangely, carbon remains pure in an environment where hydrogen molecules are 10,000 times larger than carbon.
Jacob Bernal, lead author of the study, said: “Any hydrogen destroys the synthesis of the (baki sphere). If you have a box of carbon balls and one carbon for every 10,000 hydrogen balls, how likely are 60 carbon atoms sticking together when you keep shaking them? (The answer) is very unlikely. “
Yet the Bucky ball is still floating in space. To study how and why it formed in this environment, the researchers used a transmission electron microscope (TEM) in a new study to simulate the planetary nebula environment. It is understood that the instruments were designed to work under real conditions — similar to those in interstellar space — and allowed scientists to study atoms carefully.
First, the team placed silicon carbide, a common supernova dust, in TEM, and then raised the temperature to 1830 degrees F (999 degrees C) and sent high-energy ions. The researchers think it should remove only carbon from silicon.
“In deed, the silicon fell off, and all that remained was a hexaphacarbon layer called graphite,” said study co-author Lucy Ziurys. So we think we’re seeing C60. “
Apparently, the formation of the Bucky ball in space became the focus. The team said that first silicon carbide is released in a supernova explosion, and then when it floats in interstellar space it is exposed to high temperatures, shock waves and radiation, so the silicon is torn out and left with complex shaped carbon. Because the ball is stable in radiation, it can survive there for billions of years.
The team says the significance of the study is interesting.
The study was published in Astrophysical Johnal Letters.