Science: The Origins of Elements

The Story:

Cosmological theory has long held that the Big Bang created a universe with only three elements: hydrogen, helium, and lithium, which have respectively atomic numbers 1, 2, and 3. All the other elements on the periodic table have to be accounted for by subsequent developments. The usual suspicion, furthermore, is that supernova explosions have created all the heavier elements out of those initial three.

But there is a new theory in the field. Perhaps the earth itself (or presumably other analogous planets) create many of the heavier elements.


The hypothesis involves “endothermic nuclear reactions” in the earth. (These are reactions in which the fusion of atoms requires the absorption of energy. They are distinct from exothermic reactions, such as those of a nuclear bomb, in which fission or fusion results in the  release of energy.)

A Japanese geophysicist, Mikio Fukuhara, contends that endothermic reactions could create any element lighter than iron. Iron has atomic number 26. If Fukuhara and the other scientists who hold to this view are right, this could mean a big shift in geophysics.

Strange New Worlds: 

“Earth itself has been able to create lighter elements by nuclear transmutation,” Fukuhara says. This is not a substitute for the supernova hypothesis. It is a supplement.

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