A new particle (“particle X”) might help explain the mystery of the missing lithium in the universe, according to a new study published in Physical Review Letters. Scientists have built an extensive set of theories pertaining to the Big Bang. One of these involves the missing lithium conundrum. According to the calculations and estimates of scientists based on a hypothesis revolving around the formation of the Universe (the Big Bang nucleosynthesis), the current amount of lithium is three times less than what should have been formed in the early universe following the Big Bang. They have never been able to explain why.
As per this concept, the first few minutes following the Big Bang, protons and neutrons would have fused to result in nuclei, thereby creating deuterium, helium-4, helium-3 (in smaller amounts), and beryllium-7 (made from the combination of the latter two). The beryllium would have then decayed to form lithium-3. This assumption allows scientists to make very precise forecasts about the proportions of these nuclei. So, where did the missing lithium go?
The solution to this mysterious question would be a new particle, “particle X”. This is a new hypothesis put together by a team of international scientists led by Maxim Pospelov from the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Canada – it is to be noted that it is only an unconfirmed theory according to which particle X would have interacted with protons and neutrons post-Big-Bang such that the majority of the cosmic lithium-7 was destroyed. The very existence of this said particle is yet to be proved.
The hypothetical particle X would make better sense than other theories trying to explain the missing lithium. According to Pospelov, it would be electrically neutral and relatively stable. It would also interact quite strongly with protons and neutrons. It might have destroyed lithium by either dividing beryllium nuclei into helium-3 and -4, which would lead to the decay to lithium-7, or by causing the breakdown of deuterium, which would release neutrons that would destroy lithium.
Particle X might actually be what is suspected to be between matter as we know it and dark matter.
While all of this might sound credible, the very existence of particle X is yet to be confirmed. It is all but hypothesis. But, this is enough to keep scientists busy for a while. More in-depth work will be conducted to confirm the nature of particle X: is it a real thing or nothing but a fragment of imagination?