Friday, August 11, 2006


Like yourself - like many people nowadays, I suppose - at least most eccentrically curious and cosmically perplexed expats from the US east coast who live on a mountainside in central Japan and have a few moments free on a weekday such as today when the truly grandkids are elsewhere - I too have been puzzling for decades over what happened to all the lithium there used to be in the cosmos. Why, when I was a boy...

It's like my socks. Every time I hunt for a fresh pair in the dim-morning drawer I find myself asking the same old unresponsive universe: "Where did all the socks go? There used to be two of each!" (Right about here I'd like to add, as an aside, that many are the nights I've awakened with a start, crying "Where did all the lithium go?" But that's not true. We try to deal only in truth here. The missing lithium has not affected my sleep in any way that I'm aware of. Still, you never really know, do you, when it comes to the absence of lithium in the cosmos; just ask a scientist.)

So where did all the lithium go, I'd ask now and again, in vain. It isn't easy carrying a burden like that around, with only the big bang to turn to... and all that emits is a universal hum of cosmic radiation; might as well try talking to an iPoded teenager. It's always bothered me, though (often without my even being aware of the fact), the discrepancy between the amount of lithium the scientists estimated was created at the big bang, and the little bit of it they can find now.

Of course they're looking. Turns out they just haven't been looking in the right place all these years. Needless to say, the lost lithium was nowhere near my missing socks, wherever they are; cosmically speaking, it was down behind the sofa cushions. Turns out - according to scientists from the Uppsala Astronomical Observatory in Sweden, the same type of folks who brought the whole thing up in the first place – that all the lithium was consumed by the stars. No, not that lithium. No, not those stars.

Yes, the scientists have come to our aid once again, as they have so often in the past, for example when they found out that laughter was good for you, that monkeys steal when no one's looking, or that "the percentage of unpopped kernels ranged from 4 percent in premium brands to 47 percent in the cheaper ones," all as chronicled in timely fashion here at PLM. It's comforting to know they're there, the folks in the white coats, breathing all those volatile chemicals day after day and spacing out on our behalf while at least theoretically resolving the cosmological lithium crisis, whose answer was all along right over our heads.

So if you're still looking for that lithium, go outdoors on a clear night, look upward and say "thank you..."

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