|A new type of particle could have interacted with protons and neutrons shortly after the Big Bang, so as to break up lithium-7. (Courtesy: iStockphoto/Insomnela)|
I remember Racer X as a child, but this is just another reason to blame for our laptop batteries not holding a charge as long as we'd like.
For a little more than a decade, scientists have been struggling to explain why the amount of lithium predicted to have been formed in the early universe is about three times the value actually observed. Now, an international team of researchers believes it may have the answer: a new type of particle, outside of the Standard Model, that would have interacted with protons and neutrons shortly after the Big Bang so as to break up lithium-7.
According to a theory known as "Big Bang nucleosynthesis", protons and neutrons fused to form nuclei in the first few minutes after the Big Bang. This process generated deuterium, large amounts of helium-4 and smaller amounts of helium-3 – the latter two combined to create beryllium-7, which eventually decayed to lithium-7. The theory makes very precise predictions of the relative proportions of these nuclei, based on a quantity – known as the photon–baryon ratio – taken from observations of the cosmic microwave background.
For helium and deuterium, these predictions agree very well with observations of physical systems thought to contain material dating back to the time of the Big Bang. However, the theoretical value for lithium – just five per billion of hydrogen – is between two and five times too high.
Now, Maxim Pospelov of the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Canada, together with colleagues at the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna, says that this mismatch is not a "full-blown crisis for cosmology" because the observed lithium-7 levels, which are obtained from atmospheric spectra of very old stars, might not match primordial values. The researchers say that obscure astrophysical processes might have depleted lithium within the stellar atmospheres, but add that astrophysicists have yet to pinpoint such a process.
Physics World: Particle 'X' may have snuffed out cosmic lithium, Edwin Cartlidge