Buckyballs from Cosmic Can Be The Source of Mysterious Infrared Light

Buckyballs from Cosmic Can Be The Source of Mysterious Infrared Light ...

Scientists may have just discovered the origin of some mysterious infrared glows found emanating from stars and interstellar dust and gas.

Scientists have been baffled by these unidentified Infrared Emission (UIE) bands for decades; according to a theoretical new research, at least some of these bands may be produced by highly ionized buckminsterfullerene, more commonly known as buckyballs.

"I am extremely grateful to have participated in Dr Sadjadi's astoundingly detailed quantum chemistry investigations that have resulted in these remarkable results," said astrophysicist Quentin Parker of Hong Kong University's Laboratory for Space Research.

"They first concern the theoretical proof that Fullerene Carbon 60 can withstand extreme ionization, and now this study shows that the infrared emission signatures from such species are an excellent match for some of the most prominent Unidentified Infrared Emission features."

Buckminsterfullerene (C60) is a complex of 60 carbon atoms arranged in the shape of a soccer ball or football. It can be found naturally in soot, the organic matter left behind by combustion.

The molecule was only recently positively detected in space: in 2010 it was discovered in a nebula, in 2012, it was discovered in a gas around a star, and in 2019 it was discovered in the 'empty' space between the stars.

Although recent research suggests that the buckyballs are made by dying stars, scientists have been fascinated with its properties and what might happen to it in the vast wide Universe.

Parker and his colleague, astrophysicist SeyedAbdolreza Sadjadi, both from the Laboratory for Space Research, demonstrated that buckyballs can withstand severe punishment in space.

Before a buckyball collapses, they can become highly ionized due to the addition or removal of electrons. Up to 26 electrons may be removed from a buckyball.

What the study neglected was the effects that a higher level of ionization might have on the buckyballs. Chih-Hao Hsia and Yong Zhang, both affiliated with the Laboratory for Space Research, set out to investigate.

To assess the wavelengths in which these substances might be seen, the researchers performed a series of quantum chemical experiments.

The researchers then compared their findings to infrared observations of six objects, including stars and nebulae. The findings, according to the authors, are both interesting and provocative.

At 11.21, 16.40, and 20-21 micrometers, the team found that ionized buckyballs are likely to emit mid-infrared light at some of the key wavelengths associated with UIE.

buckyballs with 1 to 6 electrons removed may be very easily distinguished from the infrared emission of another type of carbon molecule, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are associated with the 6.2-micrometer band.

PAHs are another UIE candidate carrier, indicating that buckyballs are not only a good candidate, but they are also easily distinguished from other potential carriers.

This study, according to the team, provides an excellent basis for future investigations in the mid-infrared wavelength range to help track down and identify the UIE associated with ionized buckminsterfullerene.

"We demonstrated that highly ionized fullerenes may survive and thrive in the harsh and chaotic environment of space," Sadjadi said.

"We studied with two other leading astrophysicists and planetary scientists to discover the molecular vibrational notes of a celestial symphony, i.e., the spectral features that these ionized buckyballs would play/produce. We then hunted for them in space, demonstrating that their notes/signatures are easily distinguishable from PAHs."

The study has been published in The Astrophysical Journal.

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