Deep Mixing of 3He: Reconciling Big Bang and Stellar Nucleosynthesis

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Science  08 Dec 2006:
Vol. 314, Issue 5805, pp. 1580-1583
DOI: 10.1126/science.1133065

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Low-mass stars, ∼1 to 2 solar masses, near the Main Sequence are efficient at producing the helium isotope 3He, which they mix into the convective envelope on the giant branch and should distribute into the Galaxy by way of envelope loss. This process is so efficient that it is difficult to reconcile the low observed cosmic abundance of 3He with the predictions of both stellar and Big Bang nucleosynthesis. Here we find, by modeling a red giant with a fully three-dimensional hydrodynamic code and a full nucleosynthetic network, that mixing arises in the supposedly stable and radiative zone between the hydrogen-burning shell and the base of the convective envelope. This mixing is due to Rayleigh-Taylor instability within a zone just above the hydrogen-burning shell, where a nuclear reaction lowers the mean molecular weight slightly. Thus, we are able to remove the threat that 3He production in low-mass stars poses to the Big Bang nucleosynthesis of 3He.

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