Buckyballs: Mini Spaceballs Make Major Headlines
Tuesday, February 28th, 2012
Buckyballs are everywhere. You couldn’t open a news browser last week without seeing the usually modest spaceballs splashed across your screen.
Last week, it was reported that NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope detected a massive cloud of buckyballs speeding through space, 6,500 lightyears away. This week we’re learning a little more about what these intriguing orbs have to offer… namely, the building blocks of life.
Why are these spaceballs so special?
Well, it’s very possible that buckyballs delivered the first building blocks of life on Earth (and perhaps on other planets as well).
The renewed excitement stems from the fact that they ”may be an important form of carbon, an essential buildingblock for life, throughout the cosmos,” says Mike Werner, Project Scientist of the Spitzer Space Telescope at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Researchers maintain a dogged interest in buckyballs, which are unobservable with the human eye, because of their use in nanotechnology and nano science. Ultimately, buckyballs could play a key role in superconductors, medicine, armour materials, and water purification.
On Earth, you’ll find buckyballs in both gaseous and physical forms, in rock types found in Russia and Colorado. What’s intriguing here is that this marks the first time scientists have found solid buckyballs in space; the microscopic spheres are normally found in their gaseous form, unless they find themselves in the right environment. Their solid state suggests certain conditions — conditions that could allow for the creation of life’s building blocks.
So, what is a buckyball?
A buckyball is a hallow carbon sphere, “like a soccer ball,” says NASA in their recent release. Nye Evans of the UK’s Keele University says the buckyballs form a solid, “like oranges in a crate.” Keele is lead author of a paper on buckyballs, which appeared in a Monthly Notice of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Where do spaceballs hangout?
This particular cluster of buckyballs is located in deep space, inside a large cloud of particles that orbits two stars. A huge quantity of the balls were found — enough to create 10,000 Mount Everests.
What’s with the name?
Buckeyballs are also known as ‘buckminsterfullerene’ because of their similarity in shape to the designs of architect Buckminster Fuller.
by Theras Wood