A star is a massive, luminous sphere of plasma held together by gravity. At the end of its lifetime, a star can also contain a proportion of degenerate matter. The nearest star to Earth is the Sun, which is the source of most of the energy on Earth. Other stars are visible from Earth during the night, when they are not obscured by atmospheric phenomena, appearing as a multitude of fixed luminous points because of their immense distance. Historically, the most prominent stars on the celestial sphere were grouped together into constellations and asterisms, and the brightest stars gained proper names. Extensive catalogues of stars have been assembled by astronomers, which provide standardized star designations.
For at least a portion of its life, a star shines due to thermonuclear fusion of hydrogen in its core releasing energy that traverses the star's interior and then radiates into outer space. Almost all naturally occurring elements heavier than helium were created by stars, either via stellar nucleosynthesis during their lifetimes or by supernova nucleosynthesis when stars explode. Astronomers can determine the mass, age, chemical composition and many other properties of a star by observing its spectrum, luminosity and motion through space. The total mass of a star is the principal determinant in its evolution and eventual fate. Other characteristics of a star are determined by its evolutionary history, including diameter, rotation, movement and temperature. A plot of the temperature of many stars against their luminosities, known as a Hertzsprung–Russell diagram (H–R diagram), allows the age and evolutionary state of a star to be determined.
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Eta Carinae (η Carinae or η Car) is a stellar system in the constellation Carina, about 7,500 to 8,000 light-years from the Sun. The system contains at least two stars, one of which is a Luminous Blue Variable (LBV), which during the early stages of its life had a mass of around 150 solar masses, of which it has lost at least 30 since. It is thought that a Wolf-Rayet star of approximately 30 solar masses exists in orbit around its larger companion star, although an enormous thick red nebula surrounding Eta Carinae makes it impossible to see optically. Its combined luminosity is about four million times that of the Sun and has an estimated system mass in excess of 100 solar masses. It is not visible north of latitude 30° N and is circumpolar south of latitude 30° S. Because of its mass and the stage of life, it is expected to explode in a supernova or even hypernova in the astronomically near future.
Eta Carinae has the traditional names Tseen She (from the Chinese 天社 [Mandarin: tiānshè] "Heaven's altar") and Foramen. In Chinese, 海山 (Hǎi Shān), meaning Sea and Mountain, refers to an asterism consisting of η Carinae, s Carinae, λ Centauri and λ Muscae.
This stellar system is currently one of the most massive that can be studied in great detail. Until recently, Eta Carinae was thought to be the most massive single star, but in 2005 it was realised to be a binary system. The most massive star in the Eta Carinae multiple star system has more than 100 times the mass of the Sun. Other known massive stars are more luminous and more massive.
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The main sequence is a continuous and distinctive band of stars that appear on plots of stellar color versus brightness. These color-magnitude plots are known as Hertzsprung-Russell diagrams after their co-developers, Ejnar Hertzsprung and Henry Norris Russell. Stars on this band are known as main-sequence stars or "dwarf" stars.
After a star has formed, it creates energy at the hot, dense core region through the nuclear fusion of hydrogen atoms into helium. During this stage of the star's lifetime, it is located along the main sequence at a position determined primarily by its mass, but also based upon its chemical composition and other factors. All main sequence stars are in hydrostatic equilibrium, where outward thermal pressure from the hot core is balanced by the inward gravitational pressure from the overlying layers. The strong dependence of the rate of energy generation in the core on the temperature and pressure helps to sustain this balance. The main sequence is sometimes divided into upper and lower parts, based on the dominant process that a star uses to generate energy. Stars below about 1.5 times the mass of the Sun (or 1.5 solar masses) primarily fuse hydrogen atoms together in a series of stages to form helium, a sequence called the proton-proton chain. Above this mass, in the upper main sequence, the nuclear fusion process mainly uses atoms of carbon, nitrogen and oxygen as intermediaries in the CNO cycle that produces helium from hydrogen atoms.
Energy generated at the core makes its way to the surface and is radiated away at the photosphere. The energy is carried by either radiation or convection, with the latter occurring in regions with steeper temperature gradients, higher opacity or both.
Main sequence stars with more than ten solar masses undergo convection in the core region, which acts to stir up the newly created helium and maintain the proportion of fuel needed for fusion to occur. When core convection does not occur, a helium-rich core develops surrounded by an outer layer of hydrogen. For stars with lower masses, this convective core is progressively smaller until it disappears at about 2 solar masses. Below this mass, stars have cores that are radiative but are convective near the surface. With decreasing stellar mass the convective envelope increases, and main sequence stars below 0.4 solar masses undergo convection throughout their mass.
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Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, FRS (i//; Tamil: சுப்பிரமணியன் சந்திரசேகர்; October 19, 1910 – August 21, 1995) was an Indian-American astrophysicist who, with William A. Fowler, won the 1983 Nobel Prize for Physics for key discoveries that led to the currently accepted theory on the later evolutionary stages of massive stars. Chandrasekhar was the nephew of Sir Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman, who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1930.
Chandrasekhar's most notable work was the astrophysical Chandrasekhar limit. The limit describes the maximum mass of a white dwarf star, ~ 1.44 solar mass, or equivalently, the minimum mass above which a star will ultimately collapse into a neutron star or black hole (following a supernova). The limit was first calculated by Chandrasekhar in 1930 during his maiden voyage from India to Cambridge, England, for his graduate studies. In 1999, the NASA named the third of its four "Great Observatories" after Chandrasekhar. The Chandra X-ray Observatory was launched and deployed by Space Shuttle Columbia on July 23, 1999. The Chandrasekhar number, an important dimensionless number of magnetohydrodynamics, is named after him. The asteroid 1958 Chandra is also named after Chandrasekhar. American astronomer Carl Sagan, who studied Mathematics under Chandrasekhar, at the University of Chicago, praised him in the book The Demon-Haunted World: "I discovered what true mathematical elegance is from Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar." From 1952 to 1971 Chandrasekhar also served as the editor of the Astrophysical Journal.
He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1983 for his studies on the physical processes important to the structure and evolution of stars. Chandrasekhar accepted this honor, but was upset that the citation mentioned only his earliest work, seeing it as a denigration of a lifetime's achievement. He shared it with William A. Fowler.
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Did you know?
- ... a neutron star has such density that a pinhead of its matter would weigh more than biggest of supertankers?
- ... the Sun loses 360 million tonnes of material each day, yet it will glow for 5 billion more years?
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