While scientists sometimes conceptualize electrons spinning around an atom's nucleus in a defined shell, they actually fly around the nucleus at various distances; this view of the carbon atom can be seen here in two electron cloud figures (bottom), showing the electrons in a single blob (the so-called s-orbital) and in a two-lobed blob or cloud (the p-orbital). It can link to itself, forming long, resilient chains called polymers.
It can also be pressed into shapes and is used to form the cores of most dry cell batteries, among other things.
Symbol C An abundant nonmetallic element that occurs in many inorganic and in all organic compounds, exists freely in amorphous, graphite, and diamond forms and as a constituent of coal, limestone, and petroleum, and is capable of chemical self-bonding to form an enormous number of chemically, biologically, and commercially important molecules.
Other significant allotropes include fullerenes and nanotubes.
[See Periodic Table of the Elements] Carbon occurs naturally as carbon-12, which makes up almost 99 percent of the carbon in the universe; carbon-13, which makes up about 1 percent; and carbon-14, which makes up a minuscule amount of overall carbon but is very important in dating organic objects.
Just the facts Carbon: From stars to life As the sixth-most abundant element in the universe, carbon forms in the belly of stars in a reaction called the triple-alpha process, according to the Swinburne Center for Astrophysics and Supercomputing.