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As the most tightly bound nuclei, the 'Iron Peak' nuclei are the culmination of nuclear energy generation in astrophysical environments. Our re-examination of silicon burning, the mechanism by which the nuclei of the iron peak are produced, has revealed a number of potential improvements in the treatment of this ultimate stage of astrophysical nuclear energy generation. Previous work on Nuclear Statistical Equilibrium (NSE), the end state of silicon burning, has neglected the effect that Coulomb screening of capture reactions and their reverse reactions has on the equilibrium distribution, or assumed that these effects cancel, leaving an abundance distribution identical to that predicted in the absence of such screening. We find that the proper treatment of the screening of nuclear reactions in Nuclear Statistical Equilibrium (NSE), can produce significant differences in the relative abundances of the nuclei produced. This is particularly true at high density.
Further, results gleaned from simulation work done with a large nuclear network (300 nuclei and 3000 reactions) and from independent calculations of NSE abundance distributions, offer new insights into the quasi-equilibrium mechanism and the approach to NSE. We will discuss methods which use this quasi-equilibrium mechanism to preserve the most important features of the large nuclear network calculations at a significant improvement in computational speed. Such improved methods are ideally suited for hydro- dynamic calculations which involve the production of iron peak nuclei, where the larger network calculation proves unmanageable.
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