Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Scientists Discover Extraterrestrial Gases In Buckyballs Found On Earth

Date:
March 21, 2000
Source:
NASA Ames Research Center
Summary:
Extraterrestrial gases, including helium, are trapped in "buckyball" molecules in a layer of sedimentary clay found in many places on Earth, according to a paper to be published March 28, 2000, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Extraterrestrial gases, including helium, are trapped in "buckyball" molecules in a layer of sedimentary clay found in many places on Earth, according to a paper to be published March 28, 2000, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The discovery provides a new tool for tracing asteroid and comet impacts in Earth's geological and biological records. A University of Hawaii geochemist and her colleagues, including a NASA scientist, found gases that did not originate on Earth inside buckyballs, or fullerene carbon molecules.

The fullerene molecule is a hollow, cage-like structure typically made of 60 or more carbon atoms; it is also referred to as a "buckyball," in honor of Buckminster Fuller, designer of the geodesic dome that resembles the molecule.

"We discovered extraterrestrial noble gases trapped inside buckyballs in a one-inch thick sedimentary layer of clay that is exposed at several locations on Earth," said Ted Bunch, a scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. "The buckyballs containing the gases arrived on Earth about 65 million years ago during an asteroid impact that scientists theorize ended the age of the dinosaurs. The clay layer that formed from fallout of the impact debris was globally distributed," Bunch explained.

Luann Becker, of the University of Hawaii, Honolulu, HI; Robert Poreda, of the University of Rochester, Rochester, NY; and Ted Bunch of NASA Ames, discovered the extraterrestrial gases in the fullerenes. An advance copy of the article will be posted on the Internet on March 21 at http://www.pnas.org

"Helium from different sources on Earth, like our atmosphere or the emissions from volcanoes, have a very different isotopic signature from the helium in a meteorite," Becker said. An isotopic signature is the ratio of the isotopes of an element; for example, terrestrial helium consists of a small amount of helium 3 (whose nucleus has two protons and one neutron), and mostly helium 4 that has 2 protons and 2 neutrons. Cosmic helium is mostly helium 3.

"The helium we found within the fullerene cages of Australia's Murchison meteorite, for example, is similar to the helium that existed when our Solar System first formed," Becker stated. That finding points to a cosmic source for the fullerenes, the researchers say. In contrast, molecules formed in the high pressure and temperature of an earthly impact or the heat of wildfires that followed would have encapsulated terrestrial helium, according to the researchers.

They say the finding also supports the theory that atmospheric gases and organic compounds arrived on the Earth’s surface during asteroid and comet strikes early in the planet’s history when impacts were very numerous. The discovery relates to previous work by Becker and Bunch, published in Nature in July 1999 that first identified naturally occurring fullerenes in a meteorite. The scientists found significant quantities of very large fullerene molecules, some containing as many as 400 carbon atoms, in samples from the 4.6-billion-year-old Allende meteorite that landed in Mexico three decades ago.

The subsequent work examined several Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary clay sediments distributed worldwide, including deposits in Denmark, New Zealand and North America. In each case, the researchers found fullerenes that encapsulated noble gases with unmistakable extraterrestrial and possibly extra-solar isotopic signatures.

The scientists examined the one-inch clay layer because it is a well-studied sediment that contains extraterrestrial iridium and highly shocked minerals resulting from an asteroid impact 65 million years ago. A highly shocked mineral is one that has experienced temperatures of more than 2,000 C and pressures of about 400,000 atmospheres from impact shock. The clay layer documents a period of abrupt change in biological evolution, including mass extinction of the dinosaurs, now generally attributed to the impact of a carbonaceous asteroid with the Earth.

Becker said she hopes to expand the research to examine other periods of mass extinction such as the even more devastating event that formed the 250-million-year-old Permian/Triassic layer of sediment. She added that she hopes to determine if impacts with Earth trigger global change, including whether fullerenes of extraterrestrial origin delivered gases and carbon necessary to establish life on Earth.

"We now have a powerful new tracer to look at sediment layers very carefully," Becker said. "It opens new possibilities in looking at the problem of how planetary atmospheres evolved and maybe even how life evolved on Earth and perhaps on other moons and planets." She said she also hopes to work with astronomers to study the formation of fullerenes. "We have yet to learn why these things are there and what they tell us about carbon in the universe. We need to figure out how to establish their existence and how to search for it."

Grants from the NASA Cosmochemistry and Exobiology programs supported the research.

NOTE: A related release about this discovery, from the University of Hawaii, can be found at http://www.hawaii.edu/ur/News_Releases/NR_March00/fullerenes.html


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by NASA Ames Research Center. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

NASA Ames Research Center. "Scientists Discover Extraterrestrial Gases In Buckyballs Found On Earth." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 March 2000. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/03/000321075905.htm>.
NASA Ames Research Center. (2000, March 21). Scientists Discover Extraterrestrial Gases In Buckyballs Found On Earth. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 17, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/03/000321075905.htm
NASA Ames Research Center. "Scientists Discover Extraterrestrial Gases In Buckyballs Found On Earth." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/03/000321075905.htm (accessed September 17, 2014).

Share This



More Space & Time News

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Boeing, SpaceX to Send Astronauts to Space Station

Boeing, SpaceX to Send Astronauts to Space Station

AFP (Sep. 17, 2014) — NASA selected Boeing and SpaceX on Tuesday to build America's next spacecraft to carry astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) by 2017, opening the way to a new chapter in human spaceflight. Duration: 01:13 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
East Coast Treated To Rare Meteor Sighting

East Coast Treated To Rare Meteor Sighting

Newsy (Sep. 16, 2014) — Numerous residents along the East Coast reported seeing a bright meteor flash through the sky Sunday night. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Space Race Pits Bezos Vs Musk

Space Race Pits Bezos Vs Musk

Reuters - Business Video Online (Sep. 16, 2014) — Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' startup will team up with Boeing and Lockheed to develop rocket engines as Elon Musk races to have his rockets certified. Fred Katayama reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
NASA Picks Boeing and SpaceX to Ferry Astronauts

NASA Picks Boeing and SpaceX to Ferry Astronauts

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) — NASA is a giant step closer to launching Americans again from U.S. soil. It has announced it has picked Boeing and SpaceX to transport astronauts to the International Space Station in the next few years. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

    Technology News



    Save/Print:
    Share:  

    Free Subscriptions


    Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

    Get Social & Mobile


    Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

    Have Feedback?


    Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
    Mobile iPhone Android Web
    Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
    Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
    Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins