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The Question

(Submitted March 21, 2008)

How do energetic cosmic rays produce lithium from elements such as nitrogen, carbon, and oxygen? If cosmic rays interact with the elements listed above, forming lithium, how?

The Answer

The direct effect is that cosmic rays collide with a nucleus of nitrogen, carbon, or oxygen and split it apart into (usually) two parts - one of which can be lithium.

Cosmic rays that are themselves CNO nuclei can hit interstellar hydrogen and be split into smaller nuclei. That process means that cosmic rays have a much higher proportion of Li, Be, and B than other samples of matter.

See the discussion here (which is part of a larger discussion - use the navigation buttons at the bottom of the page to find the beginning and end):
http://imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/teachers/elements/imagine/07.html

Jay and Jeff
for Ask an Astrophysicist

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