Nuclear reaction uncertainties, massive gravitino decays and the cosmological lithium problem

Richard H. Cyburt, John Ellis, Brian D. Fields, Feng Luo, Keith A. Olive, Vassilis C. Spanos

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45 Scopus citations


We consider the effects of uncertainties in nuclear reaction rates on the cosmological constraints on the decays of unstable particles during or after Big-Bang nucleosynthesis (BBN). We identify the nuclear reactions due to non-thermal hadrons that are the most important in perturbing standard BBN, then quantify the uncertainties in these reactions and in the resulting light-element abundances. These results also indicate the key nuclear processes for which improved cross section data would allow different light-element abundances to be determined more accurately, thereby making possible more precise probes of BBN and evaluations of the cosmological constraints on unstable particles. Applying this analysis to models with unstable gravitinos decaying into neutralinos, we calculate the likelihood function for the light-element abundances measured currently, taking into account the current experimental errors in the determinations of the relevant nuclear reaction rates. We find a region of the gravitino mass and abundance in which the abundances of deuterium, 4He and 7Li may be fit with x2 = 5.5, compared with x2 = 3.17 if the effects of gravitino decays are unimportant. The best-fit solution is improved to x 2 ∼ 2.0 when the lithium abundance is taken from globular cluster data. Some such re-evaluation of the observed light-element abundances and/or nuclear reaction rates would be needed if this region of gravitino parameters is to provide a complete solution to the cosmological 7Li problem.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number032
JournalJournal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 26 2010


  • Big bang nucleosynthesis
  • Dark matter theory
  • Supersymmetry and cosmology


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