back to article Buckminsterfullerene sounds like the next UK Prime Minister but trust us, it's in fact the largest molecule yet found in interstellar space

Astrophysicists have found the single largest molecule yet floating in the interstellar medium, the soup of matter and radiation that floods space in between all of the universe’s objects. The molecule known as Buckminsterfullerene (C60) is made of 60 carbon atoms arranged in a soccer-football-thing-like structure. Carbon is a …

  1. Zog_but_not_the_first
    Thumb Up

    Interstellar footballs

    Spacesuits for goalposts?

    1. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: Interstellar footballs

      Or Hyper space jumpers

    2. Annihilator Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Interstellar footballs

      Isn't it? Mmm? Marvelous.

    3. Muscleguy Silver badge

      Re: Interstellar footballs

      Well at least during lulls in the furious, desperate, existential battle between the aliens and humans there will be balls to have a kick around with and find Johnny Alien isn't such a bad sort after all.

      The icon chose itself.

    4. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

      Re: Interstellar footballs

      Better than potting planets into black holes, I suppose.

      Doffs hat to the late, great Douglas Adams

  2. jake Silver badge


    Didn't they find Buckyballs in space with the Spitzer telescope around ten years ago? And not just C60, but also C70?

    1. m0rt

      Re: News?


      However, that was around a dying star. This article states interstellar so the stuff in between systems, so .... space*. So I guess this is what they mean and it goes to show that clickbait is rife in EVERY field. :)

      *Space is weird. And big. Bigger than big.

      1. Floydian Slip

        Re: News?

        It;s bigly big

      2. Youngone

        Re: News?

        You might think it's a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's nothing compared to space.

    2. Anon

      Re: News?


      22 May 2010 - NASA Telescope Finds Elusive Buckyballs in Space

      "PASADENA, Calif. -- Astronomers using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope have discovered carbon molecules, known as "buckyballs," in space for the first time..."

    3. Schultz Silver badge

      Re: News?

      This time, they did their proper homework and assigned multiple absorption bands. The older claims of buckyballs in space were a bit speculative, now they actually have some hard data.

      The uncertainties scale quite non-linearly: you observe 1 absorption band in the right spot, you might be 90% certain that you got the right molecule (there are always some issues with getting the Doppler shift right).

      If you observe two absorption bands, you get more than 90%+9%, because you know that the Doppler shift must be the same if the bands stem from the same molecules.

      A cheer for the scientists who went beyond the bare minimum required for a catchy headline!

      1. Mark 85 Silver badge

        @Schultz -- Re: News?

        I'm not certain that is actually "hard data" as such. It's still based on distant observation with some excellent guess work. To be fully "hard data" and factual, we need to collect a sample. But still, it's a great leap and in the scheme of things tells us more about the universe than we ever imagined.

        I think a pint in order for the boffins.

        1. Muscleguy Silver badge

          Re: @Schultz -- News?

          Considering helium was first discovered and named from analysing the dark bands in sunlight before any was found here on Earth I think as a scientist (even if a mere biologist) that precedence should firm up things up a bit.

          I'm an experimentalist so I'm always up for samples but it's a MEASUREMENT. I'm a Physiologist and we measure anything that moves and some things that don't. In my PhD in the subject I invented, validated and used a novel measurement.

          The body measures some things via proxies. For eg the amount of CO2 in the blood which means you have to breathe harder is measured indirectly by measuring the blood pH. Which is why metabolic acidosis will make you unwontedly breathless and metabolic alkalosis might turn you a bit blue.

          Which goes to show that direct measurements are a pretty good standard in practice.

          Also we could do an experiment. Send a vehicle high enough above the plane of the ecliptic then release a cloud of C60 into the medium with a nice bright star behind it and show the bands are the same. If we put one of those newfangled chemistry synthesis machines on the craft it can make a load of other carbon molecules and puff them out to check the other bands as well.

          I offer this experimental design under a creative commons. I simply want acknowledgment and my name on the paper.

  3. John G Imrie

    Am I the only one thinking

    The currents of space by Isaac Asimov

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Am I the only one thinking

      Prefer sultanas myself...

      1. Dippywood

        Re: Am I the only one thinking

        Do you have a raison for that preference?

        1. Toltec

          Re: Am I the only one thinking

          I'm guessing it is easier to get a date with them?

          1. Semtex451

            Re: Am I the only one thinking

            The others couldn't give a fig.

          2. iGNgnorr

            Re: Am I the only one thinking

            "I'm guessing it is easier to get a date with them?"

            I couldn't give a fig. (ninja'd)

        2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          Re: Am I the only one thinking

          I don't find currants very mixed-peeling.

          I really will get my coat after that...

    2. Crisp

      Re: Am I the only one thinking

      What a bunch of grape puns.

  4. sawatts

    "indicates there's perhaps carbon in other systems and on other planets"

    Discovery of the century.

    1. Muscleguy Silver badge

      Re: "indicates there's perhaps carbon in other systems and on other planets"

      Since there are those still wondering if silicon based lifeforms are possible (the chemistry is very impoverished in comparison and bond strengths much stronger) such observations are scientifically germane.

      Since Carbon is such an obvious goto base silicon just gets to make the rocks if there's carbon everywhere.

      Also since Carbon is element 6 and Silicon is element 14 you need earlier sequence supernovae to get lots of carbon than you do to get enough silicon. Since ice can be rock hard you don't actually needs rocks for life, though it helps.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'm amazed they found it at all.

    The thing about carbon - its main distinguishing feature - is it's black. The thing about space, the colour of space, your basic space colour, is black.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      So, that carbon, that'd be dark matter floating about in space then?

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        I thought is was Goth space-people drifting about aimlessly.

        1. Muscleguy Silver badge

          WIMPS have already been postulated.

      2. Mark 85 Silver badge

        You actually might be on to something there....

    2. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

      Are you certain it wasn't grit?

      1. Adrian 4 Silver badge

        It could be pocket fluff.

    3. Daedalus Silver badge

      Colour isn't real, of course. It's just a tag our brains apply to objects in our vision. In any case, you don't look for carbon in the visual spectrum. You find it using infra-red, and in fact the researchers here used near-IR, just beyond the 800 nm limit of our vision.

      For the record, a serious survey some years ago concluded that the average colour of the universe is beige. And Douglas Adams had nothing to do with it.

    4. Citizen99

      "The thing about carbon - its main distinguishing feature - is it's black."

      Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds ;-)

  6. ToddRundgrensUtopia

    What came first the Buckyball or the 1970 Wold Cup Adidas football?

  7. Annihilator Silver badge


    Not a single "Buckyballs..... in..... spaaaaaaaaaace!" reference in sight. Very disappointing. Yahoo! Articles! Won't! Have! Exclamation! Marks! Next!

    1. Simon Ward

      Re: Disappointing

      No mention of 'space balls' either ...

      The one with the Schwartz in the pocket, thank you ...

  8. Arctic fox

    "...........until the remaining DIBs are assigned.”

    What I want to know is who gets first DIBs? Alright, alright, see icon.

  9. Rich 2 Silver badge

    Dark matter

    Could these heavy molecules be a candidate for dark matter?

    1. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: Dark matter

      No, because it is immediately clear they are interacting with more than just gravity.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    CBA to even Google it, but is this related to Dyson spheres ?

    1. ArrZarr Silver badge

      No, it's a Captain America reference.

    2. Muscleguy Silver badge

      Dyson spheres are where an advanced civilisation largely encloses its star to capture it's energy.

      You might recall the interest in Tabby's Star which had irregular dips in light indicating lots of large chunks of Something orbiting it. Then someone did some simulations and showed a broken up large rocky planet or two could give the same result and is more likely and should be found more often and Tabby's star is the active sort to achieve that and not really a nice stable red dwarf it would be sensible to build a sphere around.

      The idea that the star would turn green from all the plant life in the sphere seemed fanciful to me. Why make them shine through? that green light is still energetic and an advanced civilisation would want to grab as much energy as they can.

  11. Alfie

    C30 C60 C90 Go!

    Surely its only a matter of time until they discover the C90 molecule or even a C120, but presumably the C120s have a short lifespan and tendency to snap?

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: C30 C60 C90 Go!

      So a theory of a long thin stringy tape rolled up tightly so that it looks 3 dimensional from a distance ?

    2. Toltec

      Re: C30 C60 C90 Go!

      Took me a second to switch from a Honda reference, in the right era though.

    3. jake Silver badge

      Re: C30 C60 C90 Go!

      Homemade fullerenes are killing industry profits! Ban soot producing burning now!

  12. beanfeast

    Isn't this what lead to the research that resulted in the 1996 Nobel prize in Chemistry?

    I remember watching an episode of Horizon about it which YouTube kindly provide, but I haven't rewatched.

  13. herman Silver badge

    Buckminsterfullerine? Shirley not the latest tryst of Bonny Prince Charley? I thought he is getting a bit too old for that sort of fling.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "The fact that there are chunks of carbon drifting through space indicates there's perhaps carbon in other systems and on other planets, and those worlds may thus have life as we know it on them."

    There's life, Jim, but not as we know it.

  15. ThatOne Silver badge

    European vs. American Football

    The fact there are naturally occurring European footballs gives it a huge legitimacy over American football, don't you think?...

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: European vs. American Football

      Like food, children's games have no national boundaries, unless placed there artificially by shallow human beings.

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