Last week, the Astrophysical Journal Letters published an interesting finding from astronomers working with NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. It appears that fullerenes (aka buckyballs) are far more widespread in our galaxy than what we thought. The discovery has lead some astronomers to speculate that the spherical carbon molecules may have even seeded life of earth.
Astronomers found fullerenes in staggering quantities throughout the Milky Way, in the space between stars and around dying stars. Fullerenes are molecules consisting of 60 linked carbon atoms. They are also known as buckyballs, so named for their resemblance to the architect Buckminster Fuller's geodesic domes.
As NASA report: "The miniature spheres were first discovered in a lab on Earth 25 years ago, but it wasn't until this past July that Spitzer was able to provide the first confirmed proof of their existence in space. At that time, scientists weren't sure if they had been lucky to find a rare supply, or if perhaps the cosmic balls were all around."
"It turns out that buckyballs are much more common and abundant in the universe than initially thought," said astronomer Letizia Stanghellini of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Tucson. "Spitzer had recently found them in one specific location, but now we see them in other environments. This has implications for the chemistry of life. It's possible that buckyballs from outer space provided seeds for life on Earth."