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Space Science

Buckyballs Detected In Space 117

Posted by timothy
from the you-may-know-his-work-from-epcot-center dept.
Rhodin writes "Fullerenes, also known as buckminsterfullerenes or 'buckyballs,' were detected about 6,500 light years from Earth in the cosmic dust of Tc 1 (PDF; abstract), an object known as a planetary nebula. 'We found what are now the largest molecules known to exist in space,' said astronomer Jan Cami of the University of Western Ontario, Canada, and the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif. 'We are particularly excited because they have unique properties that make them important players for all sorts of physical and chemical processes going on in space.'" (More, below.)
These results hark directly back to the experiments that originally identified Buckminsterfullerene, which mimicked the outer atmospheric chemistry of red giant carbon stars. Harry Kroto, who jointly won a Nobel Prize for this discovery in 1996, is excited by the findings' clarity. 'The spectrum is incredibly convincing,' the Florida State University academic said. 'I thought I would never be as convinced as I am. The fact that the four lines are there, and C70 is there, is just unbelievable. It's a spectacular paper.'"
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Buckyballs Detected In Space

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  • Cool (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mcvos (645701) on Friday July 23, 2010 @03:58AM (#33000760)

    I thought the fact that these had to be explicitly manufactured and seemed to be a human-invented molecule meant that they'd never appear naturally in space.

    Apparently there are no lab conditions on earth that are not duplicated somewhere else in the universe.

    • Re:Cool (Score:5, Funny)

      by h4rm0ny (722443) on Friday July 23, 2010 @04:08AM (#33000816) Journal

      Apparently there are no lab conditions on earth that are not duplicated somewhere else in the universe

      Somewhere out there is an underfunded galaxy filled with old computers that I can't get permission to throw out?

      • Re:Cool (Score:5, Funny)

        by CarpetShark (865376) on Friday July 23, 2010 @06:37AM (#33001438)

        Somewhere out there is an underfunded galaxy filled with old computers that I can't get permission to throw out?

        No, no, you have permission. Go ahead.

        • by gorzek (647352)

          Informative? Really? Did a mod just need to burn off a point? :-p

          • Don't worry, in a second you'll be modded troll for questioning the holy ones. Then some human sympathizer will mod you underrated. Then someone who is stoned will mod you funny. And finally all those mods will get their mod privileges revoked by kdawson for abuse. Meanwhile you'll end up with a net Karma score of "P." It is Slashdot 2.0 after all.
    • Re:Cool (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 23, 2010 @04:09AM (#33000826)

      Apparently there are no lab conditions on earth that are not duplicated somewhere else in the universe.

      Yet I'm sure somebody holds a patent for these molecules.

      • Re:Cool (Score:4, Funny)

        by quantumghost (1052586) on Friday July 23, 2010 @07:49AM (#33001820) Journal
        FLASH: Man sues Nature over patent infringement...

        Mr I. M. Atwit, lead council for Dewy, Suck'em, and Dry Corp headquartered in Topeka KS, was quoted as saying "Nature has finally overstepped her bounds by infringing on our copyright! We intend to prosecute this to the fullest extent of the law [of man]."

        Nature, unfortunately, could not be reached for comment.

        In unrelated news, NASA and several prominent astronomers today warned of an impending meteorite strike that was predicted to hit somewhere in the Mid-West of the US. The most like impact site was around Topeka, KS.

    • Actually (Score:5, Informative)

      by twisteddk (201366) on Friday July 23, 2010 @04:10AM (#33000828)

      Actually, the C-60 has been known to exist (albeit in extremely limited number) in nature on earth. Fullerenes have later been found to exist also in very "short" chains, AFAIK down to like 20-30 atoms.
      The real challenge is making stuff like tubing in desired lengths and thickness. Though the ball that is the C-60 is also very intresting, because like some of the molecular medical delivery systems invested recently, you may be able to contain smaller molecules within. This is very helpfull for nano weaponry and medicines, where all you'd need is a molecular glue that will attach (only) to your target, a container (like the buckyball) something within the container, and some sort of trigger, as presumably the fulerenes are very very stable.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Zocalo (252965)

        AFAIK down to like 20-30 atoms

        Given that a single molecule of C-60 contains 60 carbon atoms, you probably meant to put "molecules" there.

        • Re:Actually (Score:4, Informative)

          by Culture20 (968837) on Friday July 23, 2010 @04:24AM (#33000888)

          Given that a single molecule of C-60 contains 60 carbon atoms, you probably meant to put "molecules" there.

          GP was referring to buckytubes.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Zocalo (252965)
            Yes, I know. As in they might be naturally found in lengths of 20-30 molecules of BMF and not 20-30 carbon atoms. Technically through, bucky tubes are not actually formed from a collection of bucky balls, but are actually molecules in their own right with a structure resembling a single bucky ball that has been split in half and had a cylinder of carbon atoms inserted at the split. In theory it should be possible to create bucky tubes of arbitrary length by repeating the structure of the cylindrical sect
            • You were talking about buckyballs in specific, I was talking about fullerene in general, of which the buckyballs is only one of many combinations.

              Now I understand the cause of the misunderstanding. Thank you very much for the clarification.

        • by twisteddk (201366)

          Oh no. A fullerene is a molecule of ATOMS. The C-60 fullerene is merely a molecule consisting of 60 carbon atoms. They (fullerenes) DO exist in forms of lesser (and greater) density. Like C-50 and C-72.

          Good chemical engineering indicates that it may be possible in the future to generate some very long chains arteficially. Try reading the wikipage, it's very good at putting things into laymans terms: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buckyballs [wikipedia.org]

      • The interior of a buckyball (even the larger variants with C70+) is too small to hold any molecule of pharmacological interest. One or two metal ions, yes, even ammonia, methane and similar small molecules (all known), but nothing beyond that. The only payload with some potential usefulness are radioactive metal atoms for radiation therapy, but certainly not normal drugs.

    • Re:Cool (Score:5, Interesting)

      by MichaelSmith (789609) on Friday July 23, 2010 @04:24AM (#33000886) Homepage Journal

      I thought the fact that these had to be explicitly manufactured and seemed to be a human-invented molecule meant that they'd never appear naturally in space.

      Apparently there are no lab conditions on earth that are not duplicated somewhere else in the universe.

      Candle flame is loaded with Buckminsterfullerene. These molecules have been right under our noses for that long.

      • Re:Cool (Score:5, Funny)

        by L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) on Friday July 23, 2010 @04:58AM (#33001062)

        Candle flame is loaded with Buckminsterfullerene. These molecules have been right under our noses for that long.

        Perhaps a more scientific method of detection than "sniffing fire" would have had better results earlier on.

        • Re:Cool (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Velox_SwiftFox (57902) on Friday July 23, 2010 @05:25AM (#33001154)

          Soot was just so ordinary no one ever bothered to distill the different molecules out of it, to see if any had unusual properties.

          C60 is just too big a fraction, with too distinct properties, to have been missed otherwise for so long.

          • Re:Cool (Score:4, Interesting)

            by locallyunscene (1000523) on Friday July 23, 2010 @08:39AM (#33002234)
            This reminds me of a story I once heard(maybe a Fable, I'm not sure). There was a village that had the policy of euthanizing anyone that reached past a certain age so that the village would remain strong. A old woman was nearing this age when there appeared a threat to the village. A great conqueror descended upon them that they knew they could not defeat. The conqueror, wishing to take the village by peaceful means to save his men for other battles, sent a messenger proposing that he would give them 3 challenges. If they succeeded he would bypass their village. If they failed they must submit to his rule or be slaughtered. I don't remember the first two challenges, but needless to say the old woman's experience was called upon to pass them. The final challenge was to construct a rope of ash that could hold weight. Of course it was impossible for the weavers of the village to construct and no amount of the warriors' strength could press the ash together to form something cohesive. The village thought they were doomed so once again they went to the old lady because she had helped them through the previous two challenges. She told them to soak a normal rope is salt water and then burn it. This would caused the rope to retain its original shape and strength. The conqueror was confounded at the ashen rope, and the village was saved. From that point forward it let its citizens live to whatever ripe old age they wanted.

            I've never tried it myself, but I wonder if this is an ancient form of constructing bucky tubes.
            • Re:Cool (Score:5, Informative)

              by dbraden (214956) on Friday July 23, 2010 @10:43AM (#33003696)

              I think I spent way too much time tracking this down ;)

              I finally found a version of it in a Japanese folktale called The Wise Old Woman by Yoshiko Uchida. Here's a version of it that looks like it was formatted for a play, but at least it's an easy read: The Wise Old Woman [usu.edu].

              Interesting story, thank you!

          • Soot was just so ordinary no one ever bothered to distill the different molecules out of it, to see if any had unusual properties. C60 is just too big a fraction, with too distinct properties, to have been missed otherwise for so long.

            There are literally thousands of different species produced when even the simplest organic compound is burned incompletely (i.e., to form soot). C60 is a tiny fraction of what's produced in most soot from ordinary flames. This is why C60 is still $50 a gram. It actually took the researchers who found C60 in candle soot a pretty heroic effort, and even then, they already knew what they were looking for. The manufacture of C60 on an industrial scale occurs by maintaining an electrical arc across two grap

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by twisteddk (201366)

        I think the "news" is that this time they've been detected in space, where there may be less cnadle flames than there's room for ;)

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by coffii (76089)

        Candle flame is loaded with Buckminsterfullerene. These molecules have been right under our noses for that long.

        You're telling me there's a bunch of aliens out there with candles? Shit, break out the nukes.

        • Would that be Universal thermonuclear war
        • by tehcyder (746570)

          You're telling me there's a bunch of aliens out there with candles? Shit, break out the nukes.

          Should we not, instead, welcome these space hippies with open arms and a nourishing bowl of lentil soup?

    • Re:Cool (Score:4, Interesting)

      by feidaykin (158035) on Friday July 23, 2010 @07:00AM (#33001550) Journal
      Apparently there are no lab conditions on earth that are not duplicated somewhere else in the universe.

      Not the case for temperature. Scientists have cooled a piece of rhodium metal to 100 picokelvin. The coldest observed temperature in the universe is about 1K. I remember reading an article where some scientist joked that any region of space colder than what we've achieved in a laboratory would have to be in the laboratory of an alien civilization. ;)

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Alsee (515537)

      As others have noted buckyballs are a significant component of common soot. They form naturally in almost any high temperature carbon vapor. The surprising thing is that they had been overlooked by scientists for so long.

      Apparently there are no lab conditions on earth that are not duplicated somewhere else in the universe.

      Actually there is a pretty easy example of conditions that are not duplicated anywhere in the universe (except perhaps within some alien scientist's lab). Science experiments can't even be

      • by gstoddart (321705)

        In the laboratory we can actively cool stuff. We have gotten temperatures down to a few billionths of a degree above absolute zero. We are pretty dang certain that these conditions have never existed in the history of the universe, unless some alien science lab beat us to it. At these temperatures you can achieve an entirely new state of matter called a Bose-Einstein condensate.

        Generally I agree with everything you said.

        But, I'm more inclined to believe that somewhere, due to some natural process we can't e

    • by mhajicek (1582795)
      Some small percentage of carbon soot from poorly burning acetylene is naturally buckyballs and tubes. The hard part is separating them out, or making a larger percentage of the soot become fullerenes.
    • by Anonym1ty (534715)
      No... Fullerenes can occur naturally in soot, like lamp or carbon black. Though it is true that certain fullerenes are unlikely to occur in nature, varieties of fullerenes most certainly exist in nature. The real cool man-made stuff are the perfect fullerenes and the ones made with certain atoms traped inside like gold to change some of the material's properties, but remember fullerenes just mean molecular balls of carbon. Unless you think it must be buckminsterfullerene (C60) or Icosahedral fullerene (C54
    • by BraksDad (963908)
      Space is big. Reminiscent of the infinite monkeys with an infinite number of typewriters.
  • Dark matter? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by captainpanic (1173915) on Friday July 23, 2010 @04:00AM (#33000770)

    We're still searching for dark matter, right?

    So, now we found yet another material that absorbs light. So that could mean that the stars we see actually burn brighter (and are more massive?) than we thought. And in addition, there is a material previously unknown to exist in space.

    Could is be possible that dark matter is just ordinary matter, made up of atoms and such, and that we just haven't found it yet because it absorbs the radiation we scan for?

    -- I admit that I'm no expert, so don't mod me down for stupidity. Just correct me instead, please.

    • Re:Dark matter? (Score:4, Informative)

      by psone (1416351) * on Friday July 23, 2010 @04:16AM (#33000850)
      There are several theoretical candidates for Dark Matter. Non-Baryonic Dark Matter (aka matter not made of quarks, protons, neutrons and not interacting with electrons and photons) is expected to contribute for the greater part to it. Fullerenes fall in the first category. Additionally, the observations of stars (gravitational interactions) are in accordance with the standard model and that pleads for the absence of Dark Matter in or around stars. However the cohesion or consistency of galaxies is not expectable if the only mass present in them comes from stars and stellar systems. That pleads for the presence of dark mater in the halo of galaxies and in clusters of galaxies.
      • by psone (1416351) *
        "First category" was meant for 'baryonic matter' — which vanished between my brain and fingers.
    • Re:Dark matter? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by twisteddk (201366) on Friday July 23, 2010 @04:28AM (#33000918)

      Also not an expert. But if we eventually manage to find a molecule that can absorb energy without emitting it again in some form or other, that'd be pretty amazing from a chemistry standpoint. Our current undestanding of energy is that all energy input corresponds to a certain output. That is, energy may change form, but it may not cease to exist. this is generally also how we manage to identify molecules and objects, by measuring how they reflect radiation, or convert it to heat, mass etc.

      But certainly a molecule that can absorb radiation without leaking it again, would revolutionize nuclear waste storage and facilities, where currently excess materials are encased in glass, then stainless steel, then put into storage for 6-800 years before the decay is sufficient for the material to be reused as nuclear fuel. Throughout those 6-800 years emission can be detrimetal to your health, a case that ensures 100% absorption of the radiation would be excellent !

      That said, I doubt that is the case. I love the idea of it though. And I'm sure that in the future we will have a far better understanding of physics which will hopefully yield such bounties.

      • While I agree that energy absorbed must eventually be emitted, the emissions can be extremely faint.

        Dark matter is supposed to be the majority of the matter in the universe. So, even if it does absorb and emit radiation, it will be extremely cold.

        We did find a cosmic background radiation of just a few degrees above absolute zero. It's supposed to originate from the early days of the universe... which makes sense (since we can also see very old stars).

        But couldn't that also be radiation with an origin much c

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        That is, energy may change form, but it may not cease to exist.

        It can appear to cease to exist, though. If you take two waves of identical frequency and combine them exactly out of phase, both waveforms will disappear; they cancel each other out.

        • by treeves (963993)
          I think it doesn't appear to disappear, it appears to be somewhere else. In the classic double-slit diffraction experiments that show the kind of destructive interference you're talking about, there is complementary constructive interference. The photons that "cancel each other out" in the troughs, add together in the peaks. Net result: same number of photons you started with, but formed into a periodic pattern.
          • by mcgrew (92797) *

            If you take a sound and run it through a phase shifter making it 180 degrees out of phase, and combine it with the original sound, silence is all you get. Likewise, if you take a ten watt 60 Hz alternating current and feed it out of phase with another ten watt 60 Hz alternating current you get zero watts. Constructive interference is the opposite; if you feed them together in phase there's an amplification.

            I think I see what you're getting at, that the constructive interference balances out the destructive

    • Could is be possible that dark matter is just ordinary matter, made up of atoms and such, and that we just haven't found it yet because it absorbs the radiation we scan for?

      Thankyou. I have often wondered the same thing. How exactly can we assume that all non-dark matter is detectable using today's instruments? Isn't it possible that there is one hell of a crapload of normal matter out there that we just can't see? That it isn't some mysterious force that we have to give a spooky name to?

      Hope some cosmologists out there can shed some light on this, preferably in layperson's terms.

      • Isn't it possible that there is one hell of a crapload of normal matter out there that we just can't see? That it isn't some mysterious force that we have to give a spooky name to?

        If anyone is thinking of mentioning midi-chlorians, please beat yourself senseless and save us the time and effort.

    • Anything that absorbs also emits. When we (IAAA) say "dark" matter, we mean matter that does not interact at all with photons. We've scanned much of the electromagnetic spectrum and do not see it.
    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      I admit that I'm no expert, so don't mod me down for stupidity. Just correct me instead, please

      You got a 2 so far, so don't panic, Captain.

    • Most dark matter isn't dark, it is transparent. In fact, it is nearly invisible (and completely invisible to light), and can only be detected by gravity. Of course, not shnning, planets and gas are dark matter, but they are the minority out there, there is something else that is much more massive.

    • Could is be possible that dark matter is just ordinary matter, made up of atoms and such, and that we just haven't found it yet because it absorbs the radiation we scan for?

      In short, no. The argument for dark matter comes from multiple different sources. If there was normal matter absorbing stuff out there and not emitting in a manner we are detecting, then we'd detect it also because we would detect a star or galaxy far away and it would get in the way of it. We'd determine several different ways to tell h

  • by mhh5 (176104) on Friday July 23, 2010 @04:01AM (#33000776)

    The molecular weight of cellulose in deep space might not surpass C70, but it *might* exceed C70... see one of the questions in this TED talk:
    http://blog.ted.com/2009/10/qa_with_garik_i.php [ted.com]

  • by h4rm0ny (722443) on Friday July 23, 2010 @04:03AM (#33000784) Journal
    and tell what they are at a distance that take light slightly longer than our recorded history as a species to travel.

    Fuck yeah!

    (That is all)
    • by Rogerborg (306625) on Friday July 23, 2010 @04:39AM (#33000984) Homepage
      Preach it! It's at times like this that I like to break out the SCIENCE: it works, bitches [xkcd.com] shirt.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Tom (822)

      But remember, it's only a theory! If you find a tiny snippet in some backwater part of the bible that contradicts it, then of course the old book is right. So don't get your hopes up.

      • by Eudial (590661)

        Well, the universe is only 6000 years old, and light did not exist before "let there be light". So it's blasphemy to acknowledge anything farther away than 6000 lightyears.

        • Except God can change physical constants if She wants to. She can make if go faster in space and the slow it down when we go to measure it.
        • by gravis777 (123605)

          No, no its not - the EARTH and the SOL system is only 6,000 years old. Did you ever actually read the Bible?

          First this: God created the Heavens and Earth—all you see, all you don't see. Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God's Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss.

          3-5 God spoke: "Light!"
          And light appeared.
          God saw that light was good
          and separated light from dark.
          God named the light Day,
          he named the dark Night.
          It was evening, it was morning—
          Day One.

          6-8 God spoke: "Sky! In the middle of the waters;
          separate water from water!"
          God made sky.
          He separated the water under sky
          from the water above sky.
          And there it was:
          he named sky the Heavens;
          It was evening, it was morning—
          Day Two.

          9-10 God spoke: "Separate!
          Water-beneath-Heaven, gather into one place;
          Land, appear!"
          And there it was.
          God named the land Earth.
          He named the pooled water Ocean.
          God saw that it was good.

          That's from The Message translation, I used it for readability purposes. Anyways, it (the Bible) never says God created the Universe in one day (read other translations if you wish). In fact, it says that on day 1, he created the Sun, and on Day 3 he created the Earth. What a concept, the sun is older than the Earth, and the Universe is older than the Sun. Funny that science doesn't teach us anything

      • by MaWeiTao (908546)

        Get over it already. The religious conspiracy to force you to stop believing in science exists only in your mind. Every time a scientific story is posted dealing with the nature of the universe somehow, someone has to inevitably drag out the tired stereotype that anyone who's religious, well specifically a christian is an uneducated moron who believes in the 6000 year old universe.

        The Vatican has specifically stated that science and Christianity can co-exist. One doesn't refute the other. There have been di

        • by Tom (822)

          The religious conspiracy to force you to stop believing in science exists only in your mind.

          Oh, I see. That explains why abortion doctors are killed by religious nutjobs, airplanes are flown into skyscrapers by religious nutjobs, proper education for our children is endangered by religious nutjobs, and people like Dawkins get death threats for writing books. It's all in my mind, that explains a lot.

          anyone who's religious, well specifically a christian is an uneducated moron who believes in the 6000 year old universe.

          That, or a cowardly non-decider whose life is a lie. Only religion allows you to believe in two mutually exclusive beliefs at the same time. One that can be verified, and one that - sorry for the pun -

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      We've decided we can do it because we assume the conclusion is correct, and we assume the conclusion is correct because we've decided we can do it. It's all too easy in astronomy and theoretical physics to go all Platonic and rejoice at something seductively beautiful rather than something with enough evidence.

      What if we are misinterpreting the results as referring to a combination of other signatures or combination fo sources, perhaps partially absorbed? What if we're hearing local noise? This is a uniquel

      • We've decided we can do it because every time we simulated those conditions in lab, we got the right answers. Now, those people may be wrong, that being a unique experiment and so, but they got the most obvious problems ruled out. As is there in TF Summary, "The spectrum is incredibly convincing".

    • by roman_mir (125474)

      Obviously god faked the results of these measurements to test our resolve to worship him.

    • by BitZtream (692029)

      Wow, the arrogance.

      No, we don't know what they are, but the guess is pretty confident.

      The fact that we make new discoveries about things that we 'know' on a daily basis should tell you not to make such bold statements.

      What was detected could be something completely unrelated that simple appears like something else to our instruments because we haven't learned to detect its differences.

  • ...atomic-scale vuvuzelas in space.

  • We cannot condone bouncing of the seventh variety.
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by macara (1813628)
      The Elders tell of a young ball much like you. He bounced three metres in the air. Then he bounced 1.8 metres in the air. Then he bounced four metres in the air. Do I make myself clear?
  • Think GeeK? (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Doesn't thinkgeek sell these?

  • by erroneus (253617) on Friday July 23, 2010 @04:53AM (#33001044) Homepage

    Am I really that old?! Oh well...

    May da schwartz be witcha.

  • Does this mean that there will be a new group of people calling for the use of "only all-natural, organic" buckyballs?
  • by ctrl-alt-canc (977108) on Friday July 23, 2010 @06:13AM (#33001324)

    ...for patent attorneys! Now they can start arguing if alien prior art exists about methods for synthetizing fullerene, thus voiding several patents. A good excuse for skyrocketing their bills.

  • Already added to the Wiki entry on interstellar molecules. [wikipedia.org] Now if we could only find some gasoline floating around out there, if only to make pundits' heads spin...why is our oil (product) floating in their planetary nebula!?!?!?
    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      Now if we could only find some gasoline floating around out there, if only to make pundits' heads spin...why is our oil (product) floating in their planetary nebula!?!?!?

      I read last year about a nebula containing ethyl alcohol. Unfortunately my googlefu is weak today, and I can't find the citation.

  • But many have been found to be ego inflated.
  • We can expect the first biological package to hit Kilimanjaro soon... right after Iapetus turns black and Hyperion disappears.

    (Hint [amazon.co.uk] for the terminally unhip.)

  • Instead of "on the internet" now we can re-patent everything with "in space."

    Buckyballs in space.

    ecommerce -- in space.

    software delivery -- in space.

    etc.

  • Am I the only one who read the title and started wondering how the magnetic "BuckyBalls" toy [thinkgeek.com] ended up in outer space?
    • by ironicsky (569792)
      I thought the same thing... My first thought was, "Why is NASA allowing people to bring strong, small magnets in space. Surely this will mess up some electronics" My BuckyBalls are safely attached to the side of my fridge where they cant do any harm
  • Maybe ET thinks it's better to send messages through chemical patterns rather than electro-magnetic patterns.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Buckyballs = Proto Proto Proto Planets

  • Who would've thought Bucky was such a manslut.
    We keep finding his balls everywhere, and people are always talking about his balls.
    "World's most successful failure"?

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