UH scientist shows fullerene can be cosmic carbon carriers
A University of Hawai'i geochemist and her colleagues have found extraterrestrial noble gasses encapsulated within "buckyballs" and other fullerene carbon molecules. The discovery provides a new tool for tracing extraterrestrial events in Earth's geological and biological record. It also lends support to the theory that, throughout time, atmospheric gasses and organic compounds were delivered to the surface of planets via asteroid and comet strikes, such as the large impact event that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
"This finding opens new possibilities in looking at the problem of how planetary atmospheres evolved and maybe even how life evolved on Earth and perhaps other moons and planets" says Luann Becker, a researcher in the Hawai'i Institute of Geophysics and Planetology in the University of Hawai'i at Manoa's School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, and first author on the paper.
Discovery of these trapped gasses in fullerenes was made by Becker and Robert Poreda, of the University of Rochester's Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, with Theodore Bunch of NASA Ames Research Center's Astrobiology and Space Research Division. Their findings will appear in the March 28 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. An advance copy of the article is available online at www.pnas.org after 5 p.m. EST March 20.
Says Poreda: "We have been working on this for five years. By answering questions that were raised in response to our earlier findings, this paper clearly confirms what we said in 1995" about fullerenes as potential delivery systems for extraterrestrial gasses.
Work published by Becker and Bunch in Nature last July, first identified naturally occurring
fullerenes in a meteorite. Fullerenes are molecules of 60 or more carbon atoms formed into a hollow
cage-like structure. They are named fo
Contact: Cheryl Ernst
University of Hawaii