Stellar Structure and EvolutionResearchers: John Lattanzio, Simon Campbell, Alexander Heger, George Angelou, Carolyn Doherty, Stuart Heap, Thomas Constantino, Richard Stancliffe (Associate), Ross Church (Associate)
Monash is one of the world's leading centres for the study of stellar structure and evolution, and especially nucleosynthesis (see below). Studies concentrate on the Asymptotic Giant Branch (AGB) phase of evolution, the last phase in the lives of most stars (those with masses between about 0.8 and 10 times that of the Sun). Although a very short phase (perhaps just a few million years) this is one of the most important as these very bright stars dominate the light and energy output of many stellar populations, and their nucleosynthesis is proving essential to understanding the composition of the Galaxy and the Universe.
Recent work has seen us extend our calculations to one of the last unknown areas of stellar evolution, the fate of the Super-AGB stars. These ignite carbon degenerately but do not progress further in the nuclear burning phases. Hence they still experience thermal pulses on the AGB, and their nucleosynthesis may prove to be the missing link in many problems currently under investigation, such as anomalous abundances seen in globular cluster stars.
We have an active collaboration with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and work to use their massively parallel 3D stellar hydrodynamics code Djehuty to investigate mixing and other hydrodynamic phenomena in stars. This work has led to the discovery of a mechanism that drives ``deep-mixing'', which was postulated to exist based on observational constraints. We discovered that the burning of 3He after first dredge-up creates a molecular weight inversion which drives mixing, and simultaneously destroys the 3He produced in the star, reconciling another problem with the observed abundance of 3He and the amount predicted from the Big Bang. Work with Djehuty continues, on various applications, including the common envelope phase of binary evolution.
NucleosynthesisResearchers: Maria Lugaro, John Lattanzio, Simon Campbell, Alexander Heger, Joelene Buntain, George Angelou, Carolyn Doherty, Stuart Heap, Richard Stancliffe (Associate), Ross Church (Associate)
Nuclear reactions in stars of masses up to ~10 times the mass of the Sun are modelled using a sophisticated computational tool that uses information on the stellar structure, in particular the temperature, density, and convective motions in stellar interiors, to calculate the efficiency of nuclear reactions at each point mass in a star. The extended nuclear networks, of up to 400 nuclei and a few thousands of nuclear reactions, allow us to make detailed predictions for nuclear abundances of the elements and their isotopes from hydrogen to lead. These abundances are calculated as a function of time, from when the star is born to the time when it sheds most of its material into the interstellar medium and turns into a white dwarf, and compared to observational constraints coming from spectroscopic observations of abundances in the atmospheres of young and old stars and laboratory measurements of meteoritic star dust. These abundances are also needed as inputs in models of galactic chemical evolution and of stellar population synthesis to address problems such as the composition of the Sun, the evolution of stellar clusters and galaxies, and stars in the early Universe. We have close links to stellar spectroscopists as well as those involved in the laboratory study of pre-solar meteorite grains, a new and emerging science for the study of the composition of now extinct stars.