Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Stars too old to be trusted? A possible Stellar Solution to the Cosmological Lithium Problem

10.08.2006
Analysing a set of stars in a globular cluster with ESO's Very Large Telescope, astronomers may have found the solution to a critical cosmological and stellar riddle. Until now, an embarrassing question was why the abundance of lithium produced in the Big Bang is a factor 2 to 3 times higher than the value measured in the atmospheres of old stars. The answer, the researchers say, lies in the fact that the abundances of elements measured in a star's atmosphere decrease with time.

"Such trends are predicted by models that take into account the diffusion of elements in a star", said Andreas Korn, lead-author of the paper reporting the results in this week's issue of the journal Nature [1,2]. "But an observational confirmation was lacking. That is, until now."

Lithium is one of the very few elements to have been produced in the Big Bang. Once astronomers know the amount of ordinary matter present in the Universe [3], it is rather straightforward to derive how much lithium was created in the early Universe. Lithium can also be measured in the oldest, metal-poor stars, which formed from matter similar to the primordial material. But the cosmologically predicted value is too high to reconcile with the measurements made in the stars. Something is wrong, but what?

Diffusive processes altering the relative abundances of elements in stars are well known to play a role in certain classes of stars. Under the force of gravity, heavy elements will tend to sink out of visibility into the star over the course of billions of years. "The effects of diffusion are expected to be more pronounced in old, very metal-poor stars", said Korn. "Given their greater age, diffusion has had more time to produce sizeable effects than in younger stars like the Sun."

The astronomers thus set up an observational campaign to test these model predictions, studying a variety of stars in different stages of evolution in the metal-poor globular cluster NGC 6397. Globular clusters [4] are useful laboratories in this respect, as all the stars they contain have identical age and initial chemical composition. The diffusion effects are predicted to vary with evolutionary stage. Therefore, measured atmospheric abundance trends with evolutionary stage are a signature of diffusion.

Eighteen stars were observed for between 2 and 12 hours with the multi-object spectrograph FLAMES-UVES on ESO's Very Large Telescope. The FLAMES spectrograph is ideally suited as it allows astronomers to obtain spectra of many stars at a time. Even in a nearby globular cluster like NGC 6397, the unevolved stars are very faint and require rather long exposure times.

The observations clearly show systematic abundance trends along the evolutionary sequence of NGC 6397, as predicted by diffusion models with extra mixing. Thus, the abundances measured in the atmospheres of old stars are not, strictly speaking, representative of the gas the stars originally formed from.

"Once this effect is corrected for, the abundance of lithium measured in old, unevolved stars agrees with the cosmologically predicted value", said Korn. "The cosmological lithium discrepancy is thus largely removed."

"The ball is now in the camp of the theoreticians," he added. "They have to identify the physical mechanism that is at the origin of the extra mixing."

[1] "A probable stellar solution to the cosmological lithium discrepancy", by A.J. Korn et al.

[2] The team is composed of Andreas Korn, Paul Barklem, Remo Collet, Nikolai Piskunov, and Bengt Gustafsson (Uppsala University, Sweden), Frank Grundahl (University of Århus, Denmark), Olivier Richard (Université Montpellier II, France), and Lyudmila Mashonkina (Russian Academy of Science, Russia).

[3] High-precision measurements of the matter content of the Universe were made in recent years by studying the cosmic microwave background.

[4] Globular clusters are large aggregates of stars; over 100 are known in our galaxy, the Milky Way. The largest contain millions of stars. They are some of the oldest objects observed in the Universe and were presumably formed at about the same time as the Milky Way Galaxy, a few hundred million years after the Big Bang.

Henri Boffin | alfa
Further information:
http://www.eso.org

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Nano-kirigami: 'Paper-cut' provides model for 3D intelligent nanofabrication
16.07.2018 | Chinese Academy of Sciences Headquarters

nachricht Theorists publish highest-precision prediction of muon magnetic anomaly
16.07.2018 | DOE/Brookhaven National Laboratory

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: First evidence on the source of extragalactic particles

For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.

To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...

Im Focus: Magnetic vortices: Two independent magnetic skyrmion phases discovered in a single material

For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.

Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...

Im Focus: Breaking the bond: To take part or not?

Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.

A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...

Im Focus: New 2D Spectroscopy Methods

Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.

"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....

Im Focus: Chemical reactions in the light of ultrashort X-ray pulses from free-electron lasers

Ultra-short, high-intensity X-ray flashes open the door to the foundations of chemical reactions. Free-electron lasers generate these kinds of pulses, but there is a catch: the pulses vary in duration and energy. An international research team has now presented a solution: Using a ring of 16 detectors and a circularly polarized laser beam, they can determine both factors with attosecond accuracy.

Free-electron lasers (FELs) generate extremely short and intense X-ray flashes. Researchers can use these flashes to resolve structures with diameters on the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Leading experts in Diabetes, Metabolism and Biomedical Engineering discuss Precision Medicine

13.07.2018 | Event News

Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP: Fine Tuning for Surfaces

12.07.2018 | Event News

11th European Wood-based Panel Symposium 2018: Meeting point for the wood-based materials industry

03.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Nano-kirigami: 'Paper-cut' provides model for 3D intelligent nanofabrication

16.07.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

New players, standardization and digitalization for more rail freight transport

16.07.2018 | Transportation and Logistics

Researchers discover natural product that could lead to new class of commercial herbicide

16.07.2018 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>