A team of researchers discovered a new type of electrically-charged molecules with the help of the Hubble Space Telescope. The fascinating molecule has the shape of a soccer ball, and the discovery may solve some of the dilemmas of the interstellar medium (ISM) which consists of the gas and dust that can be found in space.
It is well known that stars and planets will appear from collapsing clouds of cosmic gas and dust. Researchers believe that the diffuse ISM can be seen as a starting point for the chemical processes which lead to the appearance and evolution of planets and life forms.
By identifying its components, the scientists hope to learn more about the ingredients which are essential for the formation of star and planets.
The molecules observed by the study have been categorized under the name of Buckminsterfullerene and are a type of carbon. Each particle, which is also known as a Buckyball, features several 60 carbons spread in the form of a hollow sphere.
NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope Spotted Electrically-Charged Molecules
That type of carbon has been observed in rare samples of rock and minerals and can appear in high-temperature combustion soot.
C60 was observed in space before, but this is the first electrically charged version that was spotted in the diffuse ISM. The C60 becomes ionized when the ultraviolet light emitted by stars will remove an electron from the molecule. As a result, C60 will have a positive charge.
In the past, researchers believed that the diffuse ISM is too harsh to allow the spread of large molecules within its boundaries, and the most massive known molecules had 12 atoms. The new data shows how complex astrochemistry is, even when we are looking at some of the strangest environments in our galaxy.
The study focused on blue supergiants, which can be found within the Milky Way. It is thought that the new information could offer new data about unidentified DIBs. Further research is already underway.