Research NewsAstrophysics

Birth of B and Be

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Science  27 Sep 1996:
Vol. 273, Issue 5283, pp. 1799
DOI: 10.1126/science.273.5283.1799a


Greenbelt, Maryland—The origin of boron and beryllium is a cosmic enigma, because these atoms are probably too large to have formed in the big bang yet too small and fragile to be forged inside a star. Astrophysicists have long thought that they are produced in interstellar space when light cosmic rays—hydrogen or helium—slam into heavier nuclei like carbon. Now a spectrograph on the Hubble Space Telescope has traced boron abundance over time and turned this picture on its head: The high-speed cosmic rays, it seems, consist of carbon and similar elements, while their targets are hydrogen or helium in the interstellar gas.