Interstellar fullerenes may help find solutions for earthly matters
Fullerenes were first discovered by Harry Kroto in the 1970s, for which he and his colleagues received a Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Recently, fullerenes have been detected in the stellar winds of red giants and in the interstellar medium.
Fullerenes are potent antioxidants and are used in antiviral medications. In particular, fullerenes with anti-HIV properties have been discovered. They are also used as semiconductors, even high-temperature superconductors. Currently, they are synthesized in near-gram quantities. One of the more popular production methods is the graphite electrode arc process. Researchers hypothesize that in deep vacuum conditions with low density, fullerenes are created in other, as yet unknown ways.
A group of astronomers is currently engaged in studies of fullerenes in the interstellar medium. Together, they have contributed to a recent paper in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
The nearest interstellar clouds with confirmed fullerene are about 1,000 light-years away from Earth. Electromagnetic spectra of 19 distant stars were provided by the VLT telescope in Chile, one of the largest in the world. The authors found fullerenes which left detectable absorption lines in certain frequencies.
Dr. Vladislav Shimansky says, "We know which frequencies have lines of fullerenes, but the main difficulty is to separate the interstellar medium spectrum from the star spectrum. We can obtain fullerene lines by subtracting star spectra from the existing spectrum, a complicated process. Firstly, we discovered some parameters of stars, and some of these stars are unique objects. We compare fullerene-bearing clouds with non-fullerene clouds to find out which environmental parameters capacitate the formation of such molecules. In our research, we found that in some clouds the molecules are in an excited state, and in some they are not. This leads us to believe that the ways of their formation are different."