How a Supercomputer Solved A big Bang Chemical Mystery!


Most scientific cosmologists think that our Universe was born in the inflationary Big Bang almost 14 billion years ago, and at the moment of its fabulous birth–from what was almost, but not exactly, nothing–there was a fierce blast of raging light as photons (particles of light) of extremely high-energy electromagnetic radiation shot out from the seething hot matter inhabiting the primordial Cosmos. The only atomic elements, born in the Big Bang birth of our Cosmos, are hydrogen, helium, and traces of a soft, silver-white metal called lithium. All the rest of the atomic elements of the familiar Periodic Table were cooked by the stars in their hot nuclear-fusing hearts–or else in the brilliant explosions of core-collapse supernovae that herald the deaths of massive stars. For about twenty years, scientists have struggled to explain the bewildering ratio of lithium isotopes found within the hot hearts of the most ancient stars observed in the Cosmos. In June 2013, an international team of researchers announced that, with the help of high-performance computing, they have solved this perplexing mystery of Cosmic proportions.

Lithium is a member of the alkali metal group of chemical elements, and under standard conditions, it is the lightest metal. According to the most widely accepted scientific cosmological theory, lithium–with both of its stable isotopes lithium-6 and lithium-7–was among the three original elements synthesized in the Big Bang itself (Big Bang nucleosynthesis). However, lithium is also manufactured in the nuclear-fusing hearts of younger generations of stars (stellar nucleosynthesis).

According to the prevailing Big Bang theory, our Universe started out as an incredibly tiny Patch, and then–in the smallest fraction of a second–inflated exponentially to reach macroscopic size. Something, we do not know precisely what, made that tiny Patch undergo this runaway inflation. That small Patch, much too small for a human being to see was, in fact, so so extremely hot and dense that all that we are and all that we can ever know, sprung from it. Space and Time were born together in the wildly expanding fireball of the Big Bang. The newborn Universe was filled with extremely energetic radiation, a turbulent, seething sea of searing-hot particles of light. The entire neonatal Universe was brilliantly incandescent, like the surface of a star like our own Sun. the big bang theory What we now see almost 14 billion years later is the dimming, greatly expanded and expanding, aftermath of that first blast of primordial fire. As our Universe grew to its present unimaginably huge size, its glowing birth fires cooled. And now we watch, from where we exist, on an obscure little rocky world, as our Universe grows larger and larger, colder and colder, darker and darker, fading like the eerie grin of the Cheshire Cat.

Almost 14 billion years ago, all of Spacetime was born from an exquisitely tiny soup of densely packed, extremely hot particles, commonly referred to as the “fireball. ” All of the galaxies are wandering away from each other and away from our own magnificent, majestic, and star-splattered barred-spiral Milky Way Galaxy. However, our Universe has no center–everything is rushing away from everything else, due to the accelerating expansion of Spacetime, under the influence of a mysterious substance termed the dark energy. The dark energy constitutes the lion’s share of the mass-energy component of the Cosmos. The expansion of the Universe is often compared to a loaf of leavening raisin bread. The dough expands, carrying the raisins along with it. The raisins become ever more widely separated from each other as the dough rises.

On the largest scales, the Universe appears the same wherever we observe it. The most widely accepted scientific theory, based on the most recent measurements and observations, suggests that inflation is the most credible event known that could have caused our Universe to have evolved in the way that it apparently has over the past 14 billion years. In the tiniest fraction of a second, inflation is thought to have blown up like a balloon, each and every region of the Cosmos by a factor of at least 10 to the 27th power (10 followed by 26 zeroes). Before inflation blew up this enchanting, fantastic–and beautiful–Patch that is our home, the region of the Universe that we are able to see was a smooth speck smaller than a proton. When we refer to that part of the Universe that we can see, the observable Universe, we are referring to that relatively small region of the entire Universe that we can observe. The rest of it–and there is much, much more of it–exists beyond what we term the cosmological horizon. The light emanating from these extremely remote domains, beyond the horizon, has not had time to travel to us since the Big Bang.

The Supercomputer That could!

An international team of researchers, based in Australia, Germany, Brazil, and the UK, managed to solve the elusive lithium mystery, with the aid of high-performance computing. The team was able to match observation with theory, and provide an improved comprehension of what really happened right after the Bang. This feat required quite a bit of creative thinking–as well as a great deal of glittering starlight, along with a 3d model working in parallel with supercomputing hardware at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Garching, Germany. The team of scientists published their research in the June 6, 2013 issue of the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

In order to understand the nature of the primordial Universe right after the Bang that started it all, scie