News FocusAstronomy

Labs Hold the Key to the 21-Micrometer Mystery

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Science  14 May 1999:
Vol. 284, Issue 5417, pp. 1113
DOI: 10.1126/science.284.5417.1113

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For more than a decade, a strange infrared glow coming from certain red giant stars has perplexed astronomers. Centered on a wavelength of 21 micrometers, the emission forms a wide band in the infrared spectrum, which implies that it comes from a large complex molecule or a solid and not from the atoms or simple molecules normally found around stars. Now an intense e-mail debate is raging over the nature of the source, with researchers proposing substances never before detected in space, including polymers, ball-shaped fullerenes, and even nanodiamonds.