For millennia it didn’t matter. Now it plays a key role in your life. Lithium in the element in almost all disposable and rechargeable batteries, including the lithium-ion battery and the lithium iron phosphate battery. No lithium – no smart phone, no ipad, no laptop.
Lithium always mattered to astronomy however.
Even though the Big Bang was 13.8 billion years ago, scientists have a good understanding of the nuclear reactions that produced the first elements. We can calculate exactly how much of each element and isotope should have been made. When we then compare these predictions with observations, almost everything matches. “The deuterium is bang-on, The helium is looking good. ” says Brian Fields, an astrophysicist at the University of Illinois in the US. “Lithium is the one that’s off. And it is off by a lot. There is three times less lithium than there should be, a discrepancy that has been dubbed “the primordial lithium problem”.
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“But while early universe seems to lack lithium, the current cosmos has a surplus. Astronomers have found too much lithium on the surfaces of young stars, which formed relatively recently, as well as in meteors in the Solar System. There is about four times more lithium than what was supposedly made in the Big Bang, enough in the galaxy to weigh as much as 150 suns.
So, something has created excess lithium and then scattered it across the cosmos, where it eventually became incorporated into the our Solar System and, billions of years later, into the batteries of your mobile phone. The question is what?”
Now new research shows solves both problems. And novae, the less famous cousins of supernovae take the credit for letting you read these words.
Big Bang, in your hand.