Cosmic buckyballs may be the source of mysterious infrared light

(ORDO NEWS) — Perhaps scientists have just traced the source of a mysterious infrared glow detected by stars and clouds of interstellar dust and gas.

These bands of unidentified infrared radiation (UIE) have baffled scientists for decades; according to new theoretical work, at least some of these bands could be created by highly ionized buckminsterfullerene, better known as buckyballs.

“I am honored to play a role in the amazingly complex quantum chemistry. The research undertaken by Dr. Sajjadi has led to very interesting results, said astrophysicist Quentin Parker from the Space Research Laboratory of the University of Hong Kong. to very high levels of ionization, and this work now shows that the infrared signatures of these species perfectly match some of the best-known features of unidentified infrared radiation. This should help revitalize this area of ​​research.”

Buckminsterfullerene (C 60 ) is a molecule composed of 60 carbon atoms arranged in the shape of a football or football. Here on Earth, it can be found naturally in soot, the carbon residue left after burning organic matter.

In space, the molecule has only recently been discovered: in 2010 it was found in a nebula, in 2012 it was found in the gas around a star, and in 2019 it was found in rarefied gas drifting in the “empty” space between stars.

It’s unclear exactly how buckyballs get there, though recent research suggests they (like many other things) were forged by dying stars. However, since they appeared, scientists have been passionate about studying its properties and what can happen to it in the vast Universe.

Previously, Parker and his colleague, astrophysicist Seyyed Abdolreza Sajjadi, also of the Space Research Laboratory, showed that buckyballs can be severely affected by harsh space conditions.

In particular, they can become highly ionized, the process of adding or removing electrons. Up to 26 electrons can be subtracted from a buckyball before it collapses.

What the study did not cover was the changes that the level of ionization can cause to the light emitted by buckyballs. Sajjadi, Parker and their colleagues Chi-Hao Xia and Yun Zhang, who also work at the Space Research Laboratory, began the study.

They ran a series of quantum chemical calculations to determine the wavelengths at which these molecules could be seen.

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

The team found that ionized buckyballs likely emit light in the mid-infrared range at some of the key wavelengths associated with UIE – at 11:21 am, 4:40 pm, and 20-21 micrometers.

More importantly, the emission of buckyballs with 1 to 6 electrons removed can be very easily distinguished from the infrared emission of another type of carbon molecule, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons or PAHs, which are associated with a 6.2 micrometer band.

Since PAHs are another candidate vector for UIE, this means that not only are buckyballs a strong candidate, but they can be easily distinguished from other potential carriers.

The team believes this study provides a strong basis for future mid-infrared observations to help track and identify UIE associated with ionized buckminsterfullerene.

“In our first paper, we theoretically showed that highly ionized fullerene can exist and survive in the harsh and chaotic conditions of space. It’s like asking how much air you can push out of a soccer ball and the ball still holds its shape,” Sajjadi said.

“In this article, we worked with two other leading astrophysicists and planetary scientists… to determine the molecular vibrational notes of the celestial symphony, i.e. the spectral features that these ionized fullerenes will play/produce.

We then hunted them in space, showing that their records/signatures are easily distinguished from PAHs.”

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