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Black hole theory deepens lithium crisis

Proposal identifies potential new source of element

The universe is lacking in lithium — and instead of solving what’s known as the “lithium problem,” a new study makes it even more complicated.

The work, published in the July 13 Physical Review Letters, suggests that some small black holes could be acting as lithium factories. The problem is, observed lithium levels are too low to accommodate such production. Those levels are also much lower than those predicted by otherwise robust theories describing how the first chemical elements were created just after the Big Bang.

“This makes the lithium problem worse,” says astrophysicist Brian Fields of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “But it could point to more exotic goings-on in the Big Bang.”

Lithium, along with hydrogen and helium, is one of the few elements produced in the hot, energetic moments after the Big Bang. Unlike hydrogen and helium, observed lithium levels are three or four times lower than Big Bang physics predicts.

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