Primordial beryllium could reveal insights into the Big Bang

Apr 21, 2011 by Lisa Zyga feature
Scientists have proposed a method in which beryllium could have been produced in the first few minutes of the Universe. Beryllium is not generally thought to have been produced until much later. Image credit: Alchemist-hp. CC BY-SA, Wikimedia.

(PhysOrg.com) -- Some chemical elements appear much more abundantly in nature than others, which is partly due to how the elements originally formed. Scientists know that the light elements (hydrogen, deuterium, helium, and traces of lithium) were produced by fusion in the early Universe. Today, lithium, beryllium, and boron are constantly being produced in cosmic rays, while the heavier elements (up to iron) are formed by fusion in stars. Elements heavier than iron are formed by supernovae.

Physicists Maxim Pospelov of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario, and the University of Victoria in Victoria, British Columbia, along with Josef Pradler, also of the Perimeter Institute, explain in a new study that investigating how are produced can lead to a better understanding of what happened during the early Universe. The physicists have specifically investigated how could be used as a “Big Bang calorimeter” to probe the energy levels in the early Universe, and also to serve as a constraint on new physics models. Their study is published in a recent issue of Physical Review Letters.

In their analysis, Pospelov and Pradler have investigated what may have happened during Big Bang nucleosynthesis (BBN), a period that started about 3 minutes after the Big Bang and lasted for about 20 minutes. It was during this time that the first elements were produced, with the lightest elements in the greatest abundance. For instance, at that time only one nucleus existed for every 10 billion hydrogen atoms. After BBN ended, the Universe became too cool to allow any further nuclear reactions to take place.

Until now, researchers have thought that beryllium could not have been produced during rather generic circumstances in BBN. But here, Pospelov and Pradler have shown that, when an unknown particle X decays under the conditions during BBN, it can release a large amount of energy that can lead to the production of 9Be, which is the only stable isotope of beryllium. The formation of 9Be occurs at the end of a chain of transformations, going through a few light element isotopes including 6He, eventually leading to the beryllium isotope. When the physicists calculated the efficiency of this chain of transformations, they found that the process could produce a beryllium/hydrogen abundance ratio of 10-14 (or 1 gram of beryllium per 10 million tonnes of hydrogen).

“Looking at the abundance pattern of the light elements allows us to gain insight into the dynamics of the when it was a billion times hotter than it is today and only a few hundred seconds old,” Pradler told PhysOrg.com. “In our work we show that any process, such as the decay or annihilation of a relic particle species X, that dumps hadronic energy into this primordial mix sets off a chain of non-thermal nuclear reactions which culminates in the fusion of beryllium -- an element otherwise out of reach by primordial standards.”

Beryllium, along with lithium, can be observed in metal-deficient stars, which were formed from the nearly pristine interstellar gas. Scientists can identify the elements by using stellar spectroscopy to detect each element’s individual atomic resonance lines. Previous research has found that, in contrast to lithium, the beryllium in these stars is not of primordial origin. Whereas lithium’s value as a function of stellar metallicity plateaus at low metallicities, there is no plateau for beryllium. Instead, beryllium seems to be decreasing to smaller and smaller values as stellar metallicity decreases, and thus to more pristine mixtures of the interstellar gas from which the star formed.

As the scientists explain, what makes beryllium so powerful in these stars is that, unlike lithium, it is not really affected by any stellar dynamics. Whereas lithium is fragile and may have been destroyed in the stars, beryllium is much stronger. For this reason, beryllium could be more useful for constraining nonstandard BBN models.

“Many new particle physics models, including those which are currently searched for at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, predict long-lived massive states X,” Pradler said. “As the LHC is pushing the terrestrial energy frontier to search for new physics, these X particles could have copiously been produced in the Big Bang. The conversion of X's rest mass into hadronic energy during its decay can be detected in an elevated beryllium abundance. The more energy is dumped, the higher the Be abundance will be. The isotope acts a calorimeter.”

The scientists hope that future observations of metal-deficient stars may further tighten the limit on beryllium's primordial abundance, and help to strengthen beryllium as a constraint on models of new physics.

“One class of models our study targets are supersymmetric extensions of the Standard Model in which each ordinary particle gets assigned a 'doppelgänger' state,” Pradler said. “These states are typically heavy and it may well be that one of them has a lifetime such that it decays during or shortly after BBN. Indeed, it is even conceivable that the dark matter itself was produced in such decays. BBN can act as a powerful probe to test new physics beyond the Standard Model, and every model has to pass this cosmological consistency check.”

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More information: Maxim Pospelov and Josef Pradler. “Primordial Beryllium as a Big Bang Calorimeter.” Physical Review Letters 106, 121305 (2011). DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.106.121305

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User comments : 15

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ZephirAWT
Apr 21, 2011
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Shootist
3.2 / 5 (11) Apr 21, 2011
But until you actually see the Unicorns emerging from the Magic Lamp, fitting observations to known constructs would be Occam's solution.
Aristoteles
1 / 5 (3) Apr 21, 2011
Who or where was saying that the BB happend only once ???
Happy EASTER to all !!!
that_guy
4 / 5 (4) Apr 21, 2011
You guys are hilarious. Does anyone else notice that the picture there looks exactly like high quality coal (anthracite)
6_6
1.6 / 5 (20) Apr 21, 2011
CERN.. just a creative way to keep scientists employed.. it's a black hole for money to be wasted in.. no worthwhile discovers will ever come from it..
Byagam_Gokulden
4.4 / 5 (13) Apr 21, 2011
CERN.. just a creative way to keep scientists employed.. it's a black hole for money to be wasted in.. no worthwhile discovers will ever come from it..


CERN invented the World Wide Web...
FrankHerbert
1.4 / 5 (59) Apr 21, 2011
The "omg scientists making up bs to get more funding" people that inevitably pop up in these articles are funny and sad at the same time. Just imagine if we didn't have them weighing us down.
SemiNerd
3.6 / 5 (5) Apr 22, 2011
The "omg scientists making up bs to get more funding" people that inevitably pop up in these articles are funny and sad at the same time. Just imagine if we didn't have them weighing us down.

Read the article again. What these scientists are simply saying is that measuring Be9 concentrations in very metal poor stars constrains the existence of theories that predict very heavy particles contributing to BBN. Its a way of making theories that predict these particles falsifiable. This is important work.
Avitar
4 / 5 (2) Apr 22, 2011
People at CERN do good work. I am not sure how many discoveries will require that particle accelerator. I get the impression that we need an Einstien level leap.
Shootist
2 / 5 (4) Apr 22, 2011
So far, the best result from CERN, is that there is a lot of table top science left to be done.
quasi44
3 / 5 (4) Apr 22, 2011
So then the we aren't thinking that the initial event had produced incredibly supermassive objects that had gravity gradients so extreme that fusion was not just instantaneous, but just as violent as inside the event horizon of a black hole short of the singularity? Here I've been thinking that this state caused black holes to form inside them, which set the velocity of the outward bound mass that broke down over time, becoming galaxies of lesser mass objects. So then where does gravity fit in immediately after the event? Mass attraction had to be extant regardless of the event, correct?
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (1) Apr 23, 2011
So far, the best result from CERN, is that there is a lot of table top science left to be done.

Are you forgetting the planar seperation and affinity of opposite gauge bosons and the discovery of asymmetrical matter/anti-matter creation?
jamey
1 / 5 (2) Apr 23, 2011
That's "yet another mode of asymmetrical matter/antimatter creation", Skeptic_Heretic. CPT violating decay modes (which all create said asymmetry) have been known since the 70s. Just that the effects were believed to be too low to account for the current state of the universe.
Greene
not rated yet Apr 27, 2011
I want to ask what may be a dumb question. If looking out into deep space is like looking back in time then why can't we see the Milky Way at various stages development just by looking at the right distance?
frajo
1 / 5 (50) Apr 27, 2011
I want to ask what may be a dumb question. If looking out into deep space is like looking back in time then why can't we see the Milky Way at various stages development just by looking at the right distance?
We can, but at most some 50000 years. That's not very much.
FrankHerbert
1.1 / 5 (53) Apr 27, 2011
Greene, you can only look as far back as you are far away spatially. If you wanted to look at the Milky Way as it was say... 1 million years ago, you would need to be 1 million light years away from the Milky Way.

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