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Space Science

Graphene In Space Offers Clues To Life On Earth 22

Zothecula writes "Human beings may have only discovered how to create the one-atom-thick sheets of carbon atoms known as graphene in 2004 but it appears the universe could have been churning out the stuff since much earlier than that. While not conclusive proof of its existence in space, NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has identified the signature of graphene in two small galaxies outside our own. If confirmed, it would be the first-ever cosmic detection of the material and could hold clues to how carbon-based life forms such as ourselves developed."
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Graphene In Space Offers Clues To Life On Earth

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  • by mathfeel ( 937008 ) on Wednesday August 17, 2011 @05:45PM (#37123716)
    We know that stars chunk out carbon and if graphene can be made out of Girl Scout cookies (http://science.slashdot.org/story/11/08/12/0359230/Researchers-Make-Graphene-From-Girl-Scout-Cookies), it is not surprising that graphene can form. But graphene is only stable when it sticks to a substrate such as SiO2. Freestanding graphene tends to roll up into more stable configuration such as scroll, carbon nanotube, and fullerene. Given that CNT's band structure is closed related to that of graphene and therefore also responds to infrared, I would venture to guess that's what they are actually seeing. Of course, it'd be pleasantly surprising if their claim is true.
  • by JoshuaZ ( 1134087 ) on Wednesday August 17, 2011 @05:56PM (#37123812) Homepage

    A lot of neat synthesized compounds have been found in nature after they've been made by people. A very similar example is how last year using very similar methods buckyballs (big carbon molecules with 60 carbon atoms in the shape of soccer balls) have been found in space http://blogs.nature.com/news/2010/07/carbon_buckyballs_found_in_spa.html [nature.com]. Buckyballs have also been found on Earth in craters from meteorites and they are believed to have been made in the impact. Since buckyballs are large enough to contain very small molecules, there's been work trying to take these buckyballs and trying to extract atoms which were inadvertently trapped during the C60 formation. http://cnx.org/content/m14355/latest/ [cnx.org] There's hope that this technique can help us learn about atmospheric issues from long ago as well as learn about isotope ratios and the like.

    Unfortunately, Spitzer will not be operating forever. Indeed Spitzer has already run out of liquid helium, making most of its sensitive instruments inoperable. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spitzer_Space_Telescope [wikipedia.org]. Spitzer will likely have very little functionality by 2020. There's some slight good news in that Spitzer is in a heliocentric rather than geocentric orbit, so it won't need to be deorbited (often we need to deorbit satellites so that they don't contribute more space junk or engage in uncontrolled deorbits and hit something back on Earth). So Spitzer can keep working until the very end of its instruments.

    The really bad news is that there's a lot of effort to cancel the James Webb Telescope http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Webb_Space_Telescope [wikipedia.org] which will replace a lot of what Spitzer does and some of what Hubble does. Without Webb, when Spitzer goes, the US will have essentially no major space based telescope capacity. We will have let all that capacity be in the hands of Europe, Japan and China. Just as the center of particle physics moved to Europe when the LHC was built their and the SSC was canceled, so two the center of astrophysics may move to Europe. We are engaging in a slow steady decline. Neil deGrasse Tyson summarized the problem very well- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3_F3pw5F_Pc [youtube.com]- We have stopped dreaming. The American dream is ending. We might yet stop it, but right now it looks like the US is going the way of all failed empires, falling slowly into stagnation.

I THINK THEY SHOULD CONTINUE the policy of not giving a Nobel Prize for paneling. -- Jack Handley, The New Mexican, 1988.