Hubble Space Telescope confirms presence of buckyballs in interstellar matter

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Extragalactic Space Balls
NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has detected little spheres of carbon, called buckyballs, in a galaxy beyond our Milky Way galaxy. The space balls were detected in a dying star, called a planetary nebula, within the nearby galaxy, the Small Magellanic Cloud. (Credits - Wikimedia Commons)

The Hubble Space Telescope has detected proof of buckminster fullerene in the ionised state in the interstellar medium. Buckminsterfullerene is the carbon compound which is commonly known as buckyball.

The interstellar medium comprises of the matter and the radiations which are present in the space between the stars of the galaxy. It mainly comprises of gases in ionic, atomic form as well as dust and other rays. The energy which is present in this region in the form of electromagnetic radiations is called interstellar radiation field.

In a study led by Martin Cordiner, an astrophysicist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre, it has been confirmed through observations of the Hubble Telescope in 11 star systems that Buckminsterfullerene is present. It contains 60 atoms of carbon arranged in a fused ring structure which is quite similar to a soccer ball shape. First synthesized in 1984, it is the most commonly found fullerene. It is found in soot.

It has been detected in the nebula and in gas around a star. Previously, the largest known elements which were detected in the diffused interstellar medium contained a maximum of three atoms heavier than hydrogen. Hence this makes the discovery of buckyballs a steep rise in the restriction of size.

It is quite difficult to study the individual elements present in the interstellar medium since there is a combination of many factors. Besides this, the environment in which they are created is also unknown making it pretty challenging.

Scientists used a different scanning method to get a very high signal-to-noise spectra of seven stars. They have been reddened to a great extent by the interstellar medium. Four stars remained unreddened and they were probed for absorption signals at four specific wavelengths. These wavelengths are 9348, 9365, 9428, and 9577 Å.

Scientists found reliable detections of three of the strongest absorption lines in the spectra of the seven stars which were reddened. No sign of absorption was found in the four stars that were not reddened. Out of the absorptions, 9348 Å was not detected. But as this has been predicted to a very weak feature, it is not much surprising. These results were in line with the predictions made by the laboratory.

The confirmation of buckyballs in the interstellar medium will help us to know about the several other characteristics and components of the diffused ISM. It will also help us to understand the situations in which the molecules exist in the extreme conditions of the space.

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