Beryllium and Boron: Uncovering Cosmic OriginsAugust 29, 2018
As we described in our last report, our new planned experiments will be critically based on two particular elements—beryllium for our electrodes and boron, which, together with hydrogen, will be our aneutronic fuel. We pointed out that these two elements are produced by cosmic rays. But what is even more interesting is that they can be used to figure out the history of the universe and in particular if there ever was a Big Bang.
In 1988, Eric Lerner, now LPPF Chief Scientist, published results showing that cosmic rays from stars formed when the galaxy was young could have produced the observed amounts of not only boron and beryllium, but lithium as well. Lithium was hypothesized to have been created in small amounts in the Big Bang. But by 1988, there was already evidence that the Big Bang predictions were higher than the amount observed. Astronomers can observe the amount of elements produced billions of years ago by observing the spectra of old stars. These old stars are identified by the small amount of heavy elements like iron evident in their spectra. Iron and other heavy elements are produced only by supernova explosions, which occur at the end of the lifetime of massive stars. Stars that have small abundances of heavy elements must have been formed early in galactic history, before many stars had time to explode as supernova.
The Big Bang theory had predicted that even the oldest stars should have at least 0.4 lithium atoms for every billion hydrogen atoms, but observations found only 0.16. Lerner’s calculations demonstrated that all this lithium could have been produced not by the Big Bang, but by cosmic rays from intermediate mass stars (4-12 times more massive than the sun) in the early stages of formation of any galaxy. A few other researchers made similar analyses at the time, but as non-Big Bang research became less and less acceptable to funding committees (dominated by Big Bang theorists) such analyses almost stopped being published in the 21st century.
However, observers equipped with more and more powerful telescopes kept accumulating data on old stars. What the data showed was that stars that had less carbon had less boron and beryllium, but the same amount of lithium. Boron and beryllium are formed by the collisions of protons in cosmic rays with carbon atoms, while lithium can be formed from the collisions of far more abundant helium atoms in cosmic rays with other helium nuclei. Since all researchers agree that carbon has to be formed later in galactic history than helium (it forms by helium-helium fusion in the cores of massive stars) this picture is exactly what would be expected if lithium, boron and beryllium are all formed by cosmic rays. Lerner has recently performed detailed calculations showing this to be the case.
But if all lithium was formed by cosmic rays, none could have been formed by the Big Bang. Since any Big Bang explosion would definitely have created a minimum amount of lithium, this is more evidence that the Big Bang never happened. Thus boron and beryllium abundances give clues to the history of the galaxy and indeed of the universe. Lerner will be presenting these new results at an astrophysics conference in Prague in late September, together with an overview of evidence on the Big Bang.