Revealed: the Sun’s secret plan to become a lithium factory – by Simon Campbell and Yerra Bharat Kumar (The Conversation – July 6, 2020)

Simon Campbell is a senior research fellow and ARC Future Fellow, Monash University and Yerra Bharat Kumar is a postdoctoral fellow, Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Lithium is used in everything from medication to mobile phone batteries, but where does it come from? We know it is mined here on Earth, but where it is created in the universe is less well understood.

We studied hundreds of thousands of stars like our own Sun and found they produce huge amounts of lithium late in their lives. This discovery, published today in Nature Astronomy, was not predicted by our best models of stars, indicating that some physical process must be missing from stellar theory.

Lithium is a special element – it was the only metal produced in the Big Bang that created the universe 13.7 billion years ago. While other elements have been produced in copious amounts by stars since then, the amount of lithium has increased relatively little.

The source of even this small amount of lithium is still a matter of scientific debate. About half is thought to come from high-energy cosmic rays hitting heavier elements like carbon and oxygen in interstellar space and breaking them up into lighter atoms.

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