SETI [ASTRO] New Form Of Pure Carbon Found In Allende Meteorite

Larry Klaes (
Wed, 14 Jul 1999 17:47:34 -0400

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>Date: Wed, 14 Jul 1999 21:27:31 GMT
>From: Ron Baalke <>
>Subject: [ASTRO] New Form Of Pure Carbon Found In Allende Meteorite
>Reply-To: Ron Baalke <>
>University of Hawaii
>University Relations
>Media & Publications
>Honolulu, HI 96822
>Telephone (808) 956-8856
>Facsimile (808) 956-3441
>Cheryl Ernst
>University of Hawaii
>Luann Becker
>UH Manoa, c/o Scripps Institution of Oceanography
>For other Work by Luann Becker, see
>Louis Allamandola
>NASA Ames Research Center Space Science Division
>Theodore Bunch
>NASA Ames Research Center Space Science Division
>For Immediate Release: July 14, 1999
>University of Hawaii Researcher Finds a New Form of Pure Carbon in a
>Mexican Meteorite
>A University of Hawaii researcher and her colleagues from the NASA Space
>Science Division have confirmed that a new form of carbon previously made
>in the laboratory also exists in nature. The finding indicates that the pure
>carbon molecules known as fullerenes could have been a factor in the early
>history of Earth and might even have played a role in the origin of life.
>University of Hawaii at Manoa organic geochemist Luann Becker and NASA
>colleagues Theodore E. Bunch and Louis J. Allamandola discovered the
>presence of fullerene carbon molecules in the 4.6-billion-year-old Allende
>meteorite, which has been of interest to scientists since it landed in Mexico
>three decades ago.
>The scientists report will appear in the July 15 issue of the British journal
>Nature. Becker shared their findings with fellow scientists during the
>triennial meeting of the International Society on the Origins of Life this
>week in San Diego, Calif.
>"Its not every day that you discover a new carbon molecule in nature; thats
>what makes this interesting," Becker says. "If it played a role in how the
>earth evolved, that would be important."
>Fullerenes are soccer-ball shaped molecules (hence their name, which honors
>geodesic-dome designer Buckminster Fuller) of 60 or more carbon atoms. Their
>discovery in 1985 as only the third form of pure carbon (along with diamonds
>and graphite) earned U.S. scientists Robert F. Curl Jr. and Richard E.
>and British researcher Harold Kroto the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. The
>trio accidentally synthesized these three-dimensional forms of carbon
>molecules in the laboratory while trying to simulate the high-temperature,
>high-pressure conditions in which stars form.
>Scientists hypothesized that fullerenes also exist naturally in the universe.
>Becker, who earlier discovered the presence of fullerenes in deposits at the
>site of the Sudbury impact crater in Ontario, Canada, and her colleagues were
>able to document naturally occurring fullerenes by exploiting a unique
>characteristic of organic molecules. Unlike their pure-carbon cousins, which
>maintain a solid state, fullerenes can be extracted in an organic solvent.
>Becker crushed a piece of the Allende meteorite, demineralized the sample
>with acids, and used the organic solvent to extract fullerenes from the
>residue. The scientists found not only the C60 and C70 molecules believed
>to be most prevalent, but also significant quantities of C100 to C400
>molecules. This is the first discovery of higher fullerenes in a natural
>Because the multiple atoms in the molecule form a hollow, closed cage that
>can trap gasses inside, they may have delivered from their stellar birthplace
>both the carbon that is an essential element to life and the volatiles that
>contributed to the planetary atmospheres needed for the origin of life. At
>the very least, the molecules and their contents will tell scientists more
>about the early solar nebula or presolar dust existing when meteorites like
>Allende were formed.
>The research is supported by a grant from the NASA Cosmochemistry Program.

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