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THE FORMATION OF THE LIGHT

ELEMENTS IN THE BIG BANG


THEORY
NUCLEOSYNTHESIS: THE
BEGINNING OF ELEMENTS

Objectives
In this lesson, you should
be able to give evidence
for and explain the
formation of the light
elements in the big bang
theory.

What
elements
were
produced
during
the
big
bang expansion?

Big Bang Theory


The big bang theory is a
cosmological model stating that the
universe started its expansion about
13.8 billion years ago. Pieces of
evidence supporting this theory are
(1) occurrence of redshift, (2)
background radiation, and (3)
abundance of light elements.

Redshift
In the 1910s, Vesto Slipher and Carl
Wilhelm Wirtz measured the wavelengths of
light from spiral nebulae, which are interstellar
clouds of dust and ionized gases. They
discovered that the light from the nebulae
increased in wavelength. They explained their
discovery as a Doppler shift. The Doppler shift
or Doppler effect explains that when an object
gets closer to us, its light waves are compressed
into shorter wavelengths (blueshifted, because
blue light has the shortest wavelength in the
visible region). On the other hand, when an
object moves away from us, its light waves are

Slipher and Wirtz then explained that


the redshift or increase in wavelength was
due to the increase in the distance
between the Earth and the nebulae. They
concluded that the redshift occurred due
to the expansion of space.
In 1929, Edwin Hubble used the
redshift of light from galaxies to calculate
the velocities and distances of these
galaxies from the Earth. He discovered
that they were moving away from the
Earth
and
from
each
other.
His

Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation


In 1965, Robert Wilson and Arno Penzias
discovered a low, steady hum from their
Holmdel Horn antenna (an antenna built to
support NASAs Project Echo). They concluded
that
the
noise
is
Cosmic
Microwave
Background Radiation (CMBR), the remains of
energy created after the big bang expansion.
Abundance of Light Elements
The observed abundance of light elements
supports the big bang theory. The theory
predicts that the universe is composed of 73%
hydrogen and 25% helium by mass. The
prediction
correlated
to
the
measured

Formation of Light Elements


Big bang nucleosynthesis is the process of
producing the light elements during the big bang
expansion. In the beginning, the universe was very
hot that matter was fully ionized and dissociated. Few
seconds after the start of the big bang, the universe
was filled with protons, neutrons, electrons,
neutrinos, and positrons. After the first three minutes,
the universe cooled down to a point where atomic
nuclei can form. Protons and neutrons combined to
form atomic nuclei such as deuterium.

However, the temperature of the


universe was still much greater
than the binding energy of
deuterium. Binding energy is
the energy required to break
down
a
nucleus
into
its
components.
Therefore,
deuterium easily decayed upon
formation.

When the temperature cooled down


10
below 10
K, deuterium nuclei
combined with other nuclei to form
heavier ones.
Helium-3 was formed from the fusion
of two deuterium nuclei and a release
of a neutron.

Tritium or hydrogen-3 was produced from


the fusion of two deuterium nuclei and a
release of a proton.

Helium-4 was also synthesized


deuterium and helium-3.

from

Helium-4 was produced from the


fusion of deuterium and tritium.

Learn about it!


For the first three minutes, a
substantial amount of neutrons
was converted into helium-4
nuclei, before their decay.
Helium then combined to other
nuclei to form heavier ones
such as lithium-7 and beryllium-