Emergency Rations & Stellar Nucleosynthesis
So we (we being my roommates, John and Kayt [and I]) have been eating "Emergency Stew" for almost a week, and we finally ran out of ingredients and/or ways to make it tasty and edible. I discovered that rice in stew is the equivalent of nickel in stellar nucleosynthesis; its addition/creation allows for a last gasp of life, but it ultimately causes the death of the stew/star.
Stewed tomatoes, carrots, celery, meat, potatoes, and various spices, they all seemed to correspond to the hydrogen (pp chain & CNO cycle) & helium (alpha & triple-alpha processes) burning cycles of stellar evolution. That is, normal, routine (and in the stew's case, tasty).
The addition of tomato soup seemed to be the beginning of the end: the carbon burning process. Sure, it was still tasty, but not as tasty as before, and there was the sneaky suspicion that it was only downhill from here. Tomato paste...that was the neon burning process.
Random canned beans was the silicon burning process, the last fusion burning stage; a mere two weeks left in the life of the star...and about a day and a half for the stew.
The combination of beans and that much tomato product seemed to convert our "Emergency Stew" to "Emergency Chili", but it wasn't quite right, so we added rice, which worked; it was surprisingly tasty, considering all the various changes that had occurred. The problem, is that the rice (and beans) eventually overcook and become this incredibly soft mush. It still retains its shape, but it's dead at that point. In addition, the rice absorbed too much liquid, which led to the tomato base sticking to the crock pot and burning, tainting the mush with a smoky, burnt flavor.
With nickel, the issue is that the next step is endothermic rather than exothermic, and it's the exothermic reactions within a star's core that prevent its gravitational collapse. In both cases, it's the end. For the stew, this meant that it's officially dead, as no one wants to eat it; for the star, a supernova, resulting in a neutron star or a black hole.
Fortunately, tonight's emergency ration was a lot tastier than the end-stage(s) of Emergency Stew/Chili; ramen (beef flavored) and rice, with chili and curry powders.
In related news, I love Wikipedia, as I've finally discovered the processes that occur during supernova nucleosynthesis. All my textbooks merely stated that the rest of the heavy elements up to uranium were created in the supernova, but none explained how. I won't get into it here; it's more technical than I want to get into, and I figure I've written enough on stew. Plus, I can't think of any analogies, though I suppose if I leave it alone long enough, I could compare mold spores to heavy elements...but somehow it's just not the same.