Buckyball: Tiny Carbon Soccer Balls

In 1985 the buckyball was discovered by Harold Kroto, James R Heath and Richard Smalley while studying long chains of carbon contained in clouds in interstellar space. It was a new form of carbon and took the shape of a tiny football. It was originally named buckminsterfullerene, or as C60 to chemists.

Humans, as carbon based-life forms thought we knew everything about carbon until this point. It was previously thought that all forms of carbon had been described years and years before so when the buckyball was discovered everyone was completely shocked by its existence.  But that wasn’t the only new thing about it.

In order for carbon to exist in such a state it must be very stable, and the researchers discovered that it was made up of 720 carbon atoms, each with 12 protons. The fact that the ball was so unreactive meant it had to be arranged in a spherical cage like structure. This is why they named it buckminsterfullerene, after Buckminster Fuller’s discovery of the geodesic dome in 1954. For the cage to be complete, there must be 12 pentagons and 20 hexagons in it, hence the 720 carbon atom calculation.

Since this discovery, multiple carbon clusters like the buckyball have been discovered and more have been theorised to exist. We have studied buckyballs on earth to find various uses for this highly stable carbon compound. When compressed to 320,000 times the normal atmospheric pressure of earth, buckyballs form the hardest material ever found, so hard it can dent diamond.

they are also flexible, good conductors of electricity and can explode nitrous oxide very easily. There are many potential uses for the buckyball on this planet, so it’s yet another example of how studying the stars helped us evolve on Earth.