A new measurement of the fusion reaction nitrogen- 14(proton,photon)oxygen-15 and its impact on hydrogen burning, globular clusters, and the age of the universe
Stars create the light we observe from energy liberated by nuclear fusion reactions. For most of their lives, stars exist as main-sequence objects quiescently burning hydrogen. At temperatures present in stars slightly larger than the Sun, the CN cycle dominates hydrogen burning and thus a star's macroscopic properties such as luminosity and main sequence turnoff. Because it is the slowest step in the CN cycle, the 14N(p,γ)15O reaction dictates the rate of hydrogen burning. This fact mandates a good understanding of the 14N(p,γ)15O reaction rate. Although this reaction is well understood at high energies, there are large uncertainties at astrophysically relevant energies. We conducted a new measurement of the 14N(p,γ)15O low energy cross section that extends very close to temperatures present in massive stars. The previous uncertainty in the reaction rate resulted from the possible contribution of a subthreshold resonance in the ground state transition. Our measurement suggests that this resonance does not contribute significantly. We conclude that the 6793 keV state in 15O dominates the low energy cross section. Indirect measurements support our extrapolation of this state to very low energies, which results in a factor of two reduction in the reaction rate for temperature below 108 K. This new result has a significant impact on the theory of the evolution of massive stars. It significantly increases the predicted age of the oldest globular clusters and helps provide a better constraint on cosmological parameters that determine the present age of the Universe.
- Pub Date:
- October 2003
- Physics: Nuclear, Physics: Astronomy and Astrophysics