Buckyballs mysteriously show up in cold space and warp starlight

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By Joshua Sokol

Regular readers may have the same expectations of this column as they would a safari: something huge has to show up.

Greedy black holesGiant lava lakesStars too big to exist.  Even the comparatively small stuff in outer space, like asteroids or geologic features on a world’s surface, would effortlessly dwarf you if stood in front of them in a space suit.

But on scale far below the cosmic megafauna is a different world, one of tiny carbon molecules mixing and changing in the void. Its poster child is the charming buckyball, a curious round agglomeration of carbon atoms.

This chemical ecosystem can be a nuisance for astronomers, because the little molecules block out parts of the light we see from stars and galaxies. But it’s also important on its own.

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