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The rarest light elements in the Universe (Synopsis)

18 Aug 2016, 14:05 UTC
The rarest light elements in the Universe (Synopsis)
(200 words excerpt, click title or image to see full post)

“And argon, krypton, neon, radon, xenon, zinc and rhodium,
And chlorine, cobalt, carbon, copper, tungsten, tin and sodium.
These are the only ones of which the news has come to Harvard,
And there may be many others, but they haven’t been discarvard.” -Tom Lehrer
Stars fuse hydrogen into helium, then helium into carbon and then it’s up the periodic table to higher and heavier ones via other fusion and neutron-capture mechanisms. But there are three elements in between helium and carbon: lithium, beryllium, and boron. Those three elements can’t be made by conventional fusion, and in fact, aren’t made in stars at all.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons user MHz`as, with data from Katharina Lodders (2003). The Astrophysical Journal 591: 1220–1247.
Although they’re relatively rare in the Solar System and on Earth, they very much exist, and are essential to everything from plants (which need boron for their cell walls) to cellphones (which need lithium for their batteries). Their origin came not from fusion, but through cosmic spallation, where high energy particles blasted apart these heavy nuclei and created these light elements found on our world.
The nebula from supernova remnant W49B, still visible in X-rays, radio and infrare wavelengths. Image ...

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