Radioactivities in low- and intermediate-mass stars

Maria Anna Lugaro, Alessandro Chieffi

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (Book)Researchpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Energy in stars is provided by nuclear reactions, which, in many cases, produce radioactive nuclei. When stable nuclei are irradiated by a flux of protons or neutrons, capture reactions push stable matter out of stability into the regime of unstable species. The ongoing production of radioactive nuclei in the deep interior of the Sun via proton-capture reactions is recorded by neutrinos emitted during radioactive decay and detected on Earth. Radioactive nuclei that have relatively long half lives may also be detected in stars via spectroscopic observations and in stardust recovered from primitive meteorites via laboratory analysis. The vast majority of these stardust grains originated from Asymptotic Giant Branch (AGB) stars. This is the final phase in the evolution of stars initially less massive than 10 solar masses, during which nuclear energy is produced by alternate hydrogen and helium burning in shells above the core. The long-lived radioactive nucleus 26Al is produced in massive AGB stars (>4:5 solar masses), where the base of the convective envelope reaches high temperatures. Several other long-lived radioactive nuclei, including 60Fe, 87Rb, and 99Tc, are produced in AGB stars when matter is exposed to a significant neutron flux leading to the synthesis of elements heavier than iron. Here, neutron captures occur on a timescale that is typically slower than beta-decay timescales, resulting slow neutron captures (the s-process). However, when radioactive nuclei with half lives greater than a few days are produced they may either decay or capture a neutron, thus branching up the path of neutron captures and defining the final s-process abundance distribution. This nucleosynthesis in AGB stars could produce some long-living radioactive nuclei in relative abundances that resemble those observed in the early solar system.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAstronomy with Radioactivities (Lecture Notes in Physics)
EditorsRoland Diehl, Dieter H Hartmann, Nikos Prantzos
Place of PublicationBerlin Germany
Pages83 - 144
Number of pages62
ISBN (Print)9783642126970
Publication statusPublished - 2011

Cite this