Scientists have detected the largest molecules ever seen in space, in a cloud of cosmic dust surrounding a distant star. The football-shaped carbon molecules are known as buckyballs, and were only discovered on Earth 25 years ago when they were made in a laboratory.
These molecules are the "third type of carbon" - with the first two types being graphite and diamond.
The researchers report their findings in the journal Science. Buckyballs consist of 60 carbon atoms arranged in a three-dimensional sphere. The atoms are linked together in alternating patterns of hexagons and pentagons that, on the molecular scale, look exactly like a football.
They belong to a class of molecules called buckministerfullerenes - named after the architect Richard Buckminister Fuller, who developed the geodesic dome design that they so closely resemble.
The research group, led by Jan Cami from the University of Western Ontario in Canada, made its discovery using Nasa's Spitzer infrared telescope.