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The cosmic evolution of the chemical elements from the Big Bang to the present time is driven by nuclear fusion reactions inside stars and stellar explosions. A cycle of matter recurrently re-processes metal-enriched stellar ejecta into the next generation of stars. The study of cosmic nucleosynthesis and this matter cycle requires the understanding of the physics of nuclear reactions, of the conditions at which the nuclear reactions are activated inside the stars and stellar explosions, of the stellar ejection mechanisms through winds and explosions, and of the transport of the ejecta towards the next cycle, from hot plasma to cold, star-forming gas. Due to the long timescales of stellar evolution, and because of the infrequent occurrence of stellar explosions, observational studies are challenging, as they have biases in time and space as well as different sensitivities related to the various astronomical methods. Here, we describe in detail the astrophysical and nuclear-physical processes involved in creating two radioactive isotopes useful in such studies,
. Due to their radioactive lifetime of the order of a million years, these isotopes are suitable to characterise simultaneously the processes of nuclear fusion reactions and of interstellar transport. We describe and discuss the nuclear reactions involved in the production and destruction of
, the key characteristics of the stellar sites of their nucleosynthesis and their interstellar journey after ejection from the nucleosynthesis sites. This allows us to connect the theoretical astrophysical aspects to the variety of astronomical messengers presented here, from stardust and cosmic-ray composition measurements, through observation of
rays produced by radioactivity, to material deposited in deep-sea ocean crusts and to the inferred composition of the first solids that have formed in the Solar System. We show that considering measurements of the isotopic ratio of
eliminate some of the unknowns when interpreting astronomical results, and discuss the lessons learned from these two isotopes on cosmic chemical evolution. This review paper has emerged from an ISSI-BJ Team project in 2017–2019, bringing together nuclear physicists, astronomers, and astrophysicists in this inter-disciplinary discussion.
We explore the circumstellar effects on the Li and Ca abundances determination in a complete sample of massive Galactic AGB stars. The Li abundance is an indicator of the hot bottom burning (HBB) activation, while the total Ca abundance could be affected by overproduction of the short-lived radionuclide 41Ca by the s-process. Li abundances were previously studied with hydrostatic models, while Ca abundances are determined here for the first time. The pseudo-dynamical abundances of Li and Ca are very similar to the hydrostatic ones, indicating that circumstellar effects are almost negligible. The new Li abundances confirm the (super-)Li-rich character of the sample Li-detected stars, supporting the HBB activation in massive Galactic AGB stars. Most sample stars display nearly solar Ca abundances that are consistent with predictions from the s-process nucleosynthesis models. A minority of the sample stars show a significant Ca depletion. Possible reasons for their (unexpected) low Ca content are given.
Carbon-enhanced metal-poor (CEMPs+r) stars show large enhancements of elements produced both by the slow and the rapid neutron capture processes (the s and r process, respectively) and represent a relatively large fraction, 30% to 50%, of the CEMP population. Many scenarios have been proposed to explain this peculiar chemical composition and most of them involve a binary companion producing the s-process elements during its Asymptotic Giant Branch (AGB) phase. The problem is that none of the proposed explanations appears to be able to account for all observational constraints, hence, alternatives are needed to be put forward and investigated. In this spirit, we propose a new scenario for the formation of CEMPs+r stars based on S. W. Campbell's finding that during the ‘dual core flash’ in low-mass stars of extremely low metallicity, when protons are ingested in the He-flash convective zone, a ‘neutron superburst’ is produced. Further calculations are needed to verify if this neutron superburst could make the r-process component observed in CEMPs+r, as well as their Fe abundances. The s-process component would then be produced during the following AGB phase.
We present the results of binary population simulations of carbon-enhanced metal-poor (CEMP) stars. We show that nitrogen and fluorine are useful tracers of the origin of CEMP stars, and conclude that the observed paucity of very nitrogen-rich stars puts strong constraints on possible modifications of the initial mass function at low metallicity. The large number fraction of CEMP stars may instead require much more efficient dredge-up from low-metallicity asymptotic giant branch stars.
The recent discovery of microscopic grains of presolar origin in primitive
meteorites has opened a new field of astrophysics where scientists from different
disciplines, from nuclear physics to astronomy, chemistry and mineralogy, are
required to work together. In this inter-disciplinary field information on the
composition of stars is obtained through laboratory analysis of meteoritic rocks.
We review the main features of the composition of presolar SiC and oxide grains
that are believed to have originated in Asymptotic Giant Branch (AGB) stars.
High-precision laboratory measurements of the isotopic composition of these types
of presolar grains represent the most detailed record of the composition of AGB
stars, and thus a major constraint for the theoretical models of these stars. In
particular, the CNO and Al/Mg compositions can set constraints on extra-mixing
processes in red giant and AGB stars. The composition of heavy elements produced
by slow neutron captures (s-process) yields a variety of information on the
grain parent stars, including their masses and the way neutron sources operate.
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