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

An image of globular cluster M54 taken by the Very Large Telescope Survey Telescope at the European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory in northern Chile. Credit: ESO

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