Where’s All the Lithium?

This is far from our comfort zone, but we anticipate that the creationists will be picking up on it, so we’re going to get there first.

At PhysOrg we found this interesting article: Mystery over apparent dearth of lithium 7 in universe deepens. Oooooooh — a mystery! Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

Researchers studying the cosmos have been stumped by an observation first made by Monique and François Spite of the Paris Observatory some thirty years ago; they noted that in studying the halos of older stars, that there should be more lithium 7 than there appeared to be in the universe. Since that time many studies have been conducted in trying to explain this apparent anomaly, but thus far no one has been able to come up with a reasonable explanation.

In case you’re not familiar with lithium, it’s the third element in the periodic table. Here’s a Wikipedia article to get you going: Lithium. Lithium-7 is the most common isotope of lithium. Wikipedia says lithium “was among the 3 elements synthesized in the Big Bang,” the other two being hydrogen and helium. It also says:

there is a “cosmological lithium discrepancy” in the Universe: older stars seem to have less lithium than they should, and some younger stars have far more.

Okay, back to the PhysOrg article:

And now, new research has deepened the mystery further by finding that the amount of lithium 7 in the path between us and a very young star aligns with would have been expected shortly after the Big Bang, but doesn’t take into account the creation of new amounts since that time. In their paper published in the journal Nature, Christopher Howk and colleagues suggest the discrepancy is troubling because it can’t be explained with normal astrophysics models.

Interesting. The amount of observed lithium is that of the early universe — but it should be different now. Here’s a link to their paper: Observation of interstellar lithium in the low-metallicity Small Magellanic Cloud.

The creationists are undoubtedly drooling over this problem with the Big Bang theory. You know how they think: First they start with some research done by real scientists, and uncritically accept selected findings — even if they’re previously denounced the methodology — but only if those findings fit with their preconceived conclusions. Then they “analyze” their selected data, using what we call the Creationists’ Scientific Method. It works like this:

1. Select a conclusion which you hope is true.
2. Find one piece of evidence that possibly might fit.
3. Ignore all other evidence.
4. That’s it.

The lithium problem is perfect for them; it screams “young universe.” Let’s read on in the PhysOrg article:

What’s really bothering all the scientists working on the lithium problem is the fact that it’s the only element that doesn’t fit with models of how things should have come to exist right after the Big Bang.


In this new research the team looked at one single huge young star in the Small Magellanic Cloud, or more precisely, at the spectrum measured of gas and dust through which light must travel to get from there to here, and found that the amount of lithium 7 is consistent with theories that suggest how much of the element there should have been shortly after the Big Bang, which is unsettling because scientists know that more of it should have been created between then and now.

Creationists will be claiming that astronomers have confirmed that the universe is young. They’ll focus only on lithium and ignore all the other elements which exist in their expected amounts.

We certainly don’t have an answer to the cosmological lithium discrepancy. It’s a neat problem, and we’re confident that it will eventually be solved. We’re also confident that the answer won’t be in Genesis.

Copyright © 2012. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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11 responses to “Where’s All the Lithium?

  1. Lithium 7 wasn’t popular with the users. Everyone is waiting for the release of lithium 8.

  2. crock says: “Everyone is waiting for the release of lithium 8.”

    That’s not it. The intelligent designer is using all the lithium to treat his bipolar disorder.

  3. Gabriel Hanna

    I think you have a typo in step 4. It should be, “Declare victory.”

  4. It should be, “Declare victory.”

    And quote scripture.

  5. Ceteris Paribus

    Hey, no problem on the missing lithium mystery. My cousin Luigi is in the, you might say, ‘transportation business’. Actually it’s more like a ‘franchise’ for transporting certain rather rare, uh, commodities.

    So these scientist guys, crying in their beer over some missing lithium, should maybe check in with their delivery agent and maybe pony up with a little more cash to cover the high cost of gas now days.

    Like Luigi tells me, transportation is an expensive business to run efficiently, and it is always a shame when some of the, uh, cargo falls of the tailgate every now and then. You know what I’m sayin?

  6. I suspect that not enough people are recycling their used Beryllium-7.

  7. The problem is that the creationists aren’t taking their lithium.

  8. retiredsciguy

    Everyone but Gabe is a comedian. I would have posted earlier, but I have an overabundance of Procrastin 8.

  9. You YEC-obsessed people got it all wrong. There was plenty of Li for about 10 billion years, but about 4 billion years ago the unnamed, unembodied intelligent designer – Blessed be he – took all the Li to make batteries to power his computer to design that ancestral cell on his favorite planet.

    BTW, Curmie, you keep omitting #5:

    5. When it’s obvious that your audience is not buying 1-4, replace 1 with “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

  10. Laghing – It would be lithium, wouldn’t it?