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  1. Abstract The cosmic evolution of the chemical elements from the Big Bang to the present time is driven by nuclear fusion reactions inside stars and stellar explosions. A cycle of matter recurrently re-processes metal-enriched stellar ejecta into the next generation of stars. The study of cosmic nucleosynthesis and this matter cycle requires the understanding of the physics of nuclear reactions, of the conditions at which the nuclear reactions are activated inside the stars and stellar explosions, of the stellar ejection mechanisms through winds and explosions, and of the transport of the ejecta towards the next cycle, from hot plasma to cold, star-forming gas. Due to the long timescales of stellar evolution, and because of the infrequent occurrence of stellar explosions, observational studies are challenging, as they have biases in time and space as well as different sensitivities related to the various astronomical methods. Here, we describe in detail the astrophysical and nuclear-physical processes involved in creating two radioactive isotopes useful in such studies, $^{26}\mathrm{Al}$ and $^{60}\mathrm{Fe}$ . Due to their radioactive lifetime of the order of a million years, these isotopes are suitable to characterise simultaneously the processes of nuclear fusion reactions and of interstellar transport. We describe and discussmore »the nuclear reactions involved in the production and destruction of $^{26}\mathrm{Al}$ and $^{60}\mathrm{Fe}$ , the key characteristics of the stellar sites of their nucleosynthesis and their interstellar journey after ejection from the nucleosynthesis sites. This allows us to connect the theoretical astrophysical aspects to the variety of astronomical messengers presented here, from stardust and cosmic-ray composition measurements, through observation of $\gamma$ rays produced by radioactivity, to material deposited in deep-sea ocean crusts and to the inferred composition of the first solids that have formed in the Solar System. We show that considering measurements of the isotopic ratio of $^{26}\mathrm{Al}$ to $^{60}\mathrm{Fe}$ eliminate some of the unknowns when interpreting astronomical results, and discuss the lessons learned from these two isotopes on cosmic chemical evolution. This review paper has emerged from an ISSI-BJ Team project in 2017–2019, bringing together nuclear physicists, astronomers, and astrophysicists in this inter-disciplinary discussion.« less
  2. ABSTRACT A search of the first Data Release of the VISTA Variables in the Via Lactea (VVV) Survey discovered the exceptionally red transient VVV-WIT-01 (H − Ks = 5.2). It peaked before March 2010, then faded by ∼9.5 mag over the following 2 yr. The 1.6–22 μm spectral energy distribution in March 2010 was well fit by a highly obscured blackbody with T ∼ 1000 K and $A_{K_s} \sim 6.6$ mag. The source is projected against the Infrared Dark Cloud (IRDC) SDC G331.062−0.294. The chance projection probability is small for any single event (p ≈ 0.01–0.02), which suggests a physical association, e.g. a collision between low mass protostars. However, blackbody emission at T ∼ 1000 K is common in classical novae (especially CO novae) at the infrared peak in the light curve due to condensation of dust ∼30–60 d after the explosion. Radio follow-up with the Australia Telescope Compact Array detected a fading continuum source with properties consistent with a classical nova but probably inconsistent with colliding protostars. Considering all VVV transients that could have been projected against a catalogued IRDC raises the probability of a chance association to p = 0.13–0.24. After weighing several options, it appears likely that VVV-WIT-01 was a classical nova event locatedmore »behind an IRDC.« less
  3. The angular size of a star is a critical factor in determining its basic properties. Direct measurement of stellar angular diameters is difficult: at interstellar distances stars are generally too small to resolve by any individual imaging telescope. This fundamental limitation can be overcome by studying the diffraction pattern in the shadow cast when an asteroid occults a star, but only when the photometric uncertainty is smaller than the noise added by atmospheric scintillation. Atmospheric Cherenkov telescopes used for particle astrophysics observations have not generally been exploited for optical astronomy due to the modest optical quality of the mirror surface. However, their large mirror area makes them well suited for such high-time-resolution precision photometry measurements. Here we report two occultations of stars observed by the Very Energetic Radiation Imaging Telescope Array System (VERITAS) Cherenkov telescopes with millisecond sampling, from which we are able to provide a direct measurement of the occulted stars’ angular diameter at the ≤0.1 mas scale. This is a resolution never achieved before with optical measurements and represents an order of magnitude improvement over the equivalent lunar occultation method. We compare the resulting stellar radius with empirically derived estimates from temperature and brightness measurements, confirming the latter canmore »be biased for stars with ambiguous stellar classifications.« less