Nucleosynthesis and s-process element formation in giant stars
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
A thorough understanding of nucleosynthesis and element formation in stars of all evolutionary phases is of vital importance in stellar astrophysics. It provides information about internal structure, conditions and nuclear processes occurring in the stellar interior. The heavy elements formed in a star throughout its life are returned to the interstellar medium through mass loss processes. New populations of stars are then formed from this previously enriched material. This continues the cycle of element recycling in the Universe and has great consequence for galactic chemical evolution. As both modelling and observing techniques advance, more surveys are required to ensure there is agreement between the two. It is hoped that when a thorough understanding of the internal processes in giant stars is reached, the evolutionary models will reproduce the observed elemental yields. This work provides an internally self-consistent analysis of the element abundances produced via nucleosynthesis and s-process element formation occurring in giant stars in different stellar environments. High resolution spectroscopic observations have been taken of Asymptotic Giant Branch (AGB) and Red Giant Branch (RGB) stars in three different stellar environments. Spectrum synthesis has been used to determine s-process element abundances for RGB stars in the Hyades open cluster, RGB and AGB stars in the globular cluster, 47 Tucanae, and AGB stars in the galactic field. It was found that the two Hyades giant studied showed solar, or near-solar, abundances of s-process elements. Enhancements in the light s-process elements, Y and Zr, of +0.02 to +0.11 were observed, while enhancements in the heavy s-process elements, La, Pr and Nd, ranged from +0.06 to +0.16. These results are consistent with previous findings of enhancements in Y of ~+0.12, and of ~+0.15 for the heavy s-process elements. The results from 47 Tucanae suggest a genuine star-to-star scatter in the s-process element abundances in the giant stars of this globular cluster. This is unexpected due to the fact that stars in a globular cluster are thought to have the same formation and chemical history. However, spreads in s-process element abundances of as much as +-0.7 dex are observed between this study and three other studies of similar stars in the same cluster. A range of field stars along the AGB phase, ranging from M to MS to S to SC, have been analysed for s-process enrichment. The observed element abundances are compared with those predicted by recent modelling of the AGB phase of evolution. Enhancements in s-process element abundances range from [s/Fe]~0.00 for M stars, to ~+0.50 for MS stars, through to ~+0.95 for S stars. The comparison of these enhancements with those predicted by modelling provides an indication of the success of these models and will enable theoreticians to further refine their understanding of the internal nucleosynthetic processes present in giant stars.