Elemental Mystery: Lithium Is Also Rare Outside Of The Milky Way

Article written: 10 Sep , 2014
Updated: 23 Dec , 2015
by

This new picture of M54 — a part of a satellite galaxy to the Milky Way called the Sagittarius Dwarf Galaxy — is part of a “test case” astronomers have to figure out a mystery of missing lithium.

For decades, astronomers have been aware of a dearth of lithium in our own galaxy, the Milky Way. This image from the Very Large Telescope’s Survey Telescope represents the first effort to probe for the element outside of our galaxy.

“Most of the light chemical element lithium now present in the Universe was produced during the Big Bang, along with hydrogen and helium, but in much smaller quantities,” the European Southern Observatory stated.

“Astronomers can calculate quite accurately how much lithium they expect to find in the early Universe, and from this work out how much they should see in old stars. But the numbers don’t match — there is about three times less lithium in stars than expected. This mystery remains, despite several decades of work.”

In any case, observations of M54 show that the amount of lithium there is similar to the Milky Way — meaning that the lithium problem is not confined to our own galaxy. A paper based on the research was published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. The research was led by Alessio Mucciarelli at the University of Bologna in Italy.

Source: European Southern Observatory

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5 Responses

  1. wjwbudro says

    I see the comment counter incrementing on the posts but they are not displayed. What has changed?
    I enjoy reading the forums’ comments as much as the articles. Please help…

  2. Greg says

    There already was a study of other galaxies (both magellantic clouds) that found less lithium than expected. This study of course adds more distant galaxies to the list and makes these observations even less likely to be some kind of local aberration. The finding in general is profound since it is inconsistent with a key prediction of the standard model. Of course there are those who wish to throw the baby out with the bath water and try to argue that the standard model is deeply flawed and then go on to tout their own radical ideas. Needless to say this finding begs for an explanation. I would start by looking for a previously unknown process that destroys/sequesters lithium in present time and then work my way back closer to the big bang to find an explanation. The closer we get to the big bang, the more exotic the explanation will be, and the bigger a modification will be needed to the standard model. My guess would be that the answer will be found in some aspect of stellar evolution that we were unaware of as opposed to some exotic particle process indicating new physics shortly after the big bang.

  3. wjwbudro says

    Elisebeth, I am sorry to be a pest about this but, I have tried everything under the sun and no luck. I have written to UT/Fraser days ago but, no response. I have tried Firefox and Explorer and have turned off add blockers. I have always been able to read the forums’ comments but now I can’t. What has changed in the last week or so? I would appreciate any of the forum authors or readers assistance.
    Thanks in advance. You can email me at [email protected]

  4. forj says

    what is going on with the comments section lately? it tells me there are 3 comments, but i cant see them. this has been a problem for all articles for me in the past few weeks.

  5. Planetwatcher says

    Could it be that aliens are using the lithium to produce batteries?

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