Yellow hypergiant

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Intrinsic variable types in the Hertzsprung–Russell diagram showing the Yellow Hypergiants above (ie. more luminous than) the Cepheid instability strip.

A yellow hypergiant is a massive star with an extended atmosphere, a spectral class from late A to early K, an initial mass of as much as 20–50 solar masses, but having lost as much as half that mass.[1] They are amongst the most visually luminous stars, with absolute magnitude (MV) around −9, but also one of the rarest with just a handful known in our galaxy. They are sometimes referred to as cool hypergiants in comparison to O and B stars, and sometimes as warm hypergiants in comparison to red supergiants.[2][3]


This artist’s animation shows the yellow hypergiant star HR 5171.

Yellow hypergiants occupy a region of the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram above the instability strip, a region where relatively few stars are found and where those stars are generally unstable. The area is bounded on the high temperature side by the "Yellow Evolutionary Void" where stars of this luminosity become extremely unstable and experience severe mass loss.

The majority of yellow hypergiants are postulated to be post-red supergiants evolving blueward,[4] while more stable and less luminous yellow supergiants are likely to be evolving to red supergiants for the first time. There exists strong chemical and surface gravity evidence that the brightest of the yellow supergiants, HD 33579, is a high mass star currently expanding from a blue supergiant to a red supergiant.[5] Yellow hypergiants are dynamically unstable and show variation of their spectral type and temperature, at approximately constant luminosity, between an upper limit around 8,000K (the lower limit for LBV eruptions) and a lower limit around 4,000K. Examples such as Rho Cassiopeiae show slow irregular variations of small visual amplitude,[6] but are observed to show occasional larger eruptions resulting in significant increase or decrease in brightness.[7]

These stars are doubly rare because they are very massive, initially hot class O main sequence stars more than 15 times as massive as the Sun, but also because they spend only a few thousand years in the unstable yellow void phase of their lives. In fact, it is difficult to explain even the small number of observed yellow hypergiants, relative to red supergiants of comparable luminosity, from simple models of stellar evolution. The most luminous red supergiants may execute multiple "blue loops", shedding much of their atmosphere, but without actually ever reaching the blue supergiant stage, each one taking only a few decades at most. Conversely, some apparent yellow hypergiants may be hotter stars, such as the "missing" LBVs, masked within a cool pseudo-photosphere.[4] Most of them are thought to explode as supernovae without ever becoming blue supergiants again, but some may eventually pass right through the yellow void and become low mass low luminosity Luminous Blue Variables, and possibly Wolf-Rayet stars after that.[8]


Rho Cassiopeiae, the closest and best-known yellow hypergiant.

According to the current physical models of stars, a yellow hypergiant should possess a convective core surrounded by a radiative zone, as opposed to a sun-sized star, which consists of a radiative core surrounded by a convective zone.[9] Because of their extreme luminosity and internal structure,[10] yellow hypergiants suffer high rates of mass loss[11] and are generally surrounded by envelopes of expelled material. A photogenic example of the nebulae that can result is IRAS 17163-3907, known as the Fried Egg, which has expelled several solar masses of material in just a few hundred years.[12]

The yellow hypergiant is an expected phase of evolution as the most luminous red supergiants evolve bluewards, but they may also represent a different sort of star. LBVs during eruption have such dense winds that they form a pseudo-photosphere which appears as a larger cooler star despite the underlying blue supergiant being largely unchanged. These are observed to have a very narrow range of temperatures around 8,000K. At the bistability jump which occurs around 21,000K blue supergiant winds become several times denser and could be result in an even cooler pseudo-photosphere. No LBVs are observed just below the luminosity where the bistability jump crosses the S Doradus instability strip (not to be confused with the Cepheid instability strip), but it is theorised that they do exist and appear as yellow hypergiants because of their pseudo-photospheres.[13]

Recent discoveries of blue supergiant supernova progenitors have also raised the question of whether stars could explode directly from the yellow hypergiant stage.[14] A handful of possible yellow supergiant supernova progenitors have been discovered, but they all appear to be of relatively low mass and luminosity, not hypergiants.[15][16]

Known yellow hypergiants[edit]

IRAS 17163-3907 is a yellow hypergiant that clearly shows the expelled material that probably surrounds all yellow hypergiants.
Yellow hypergiant HR 5171 A, seen as the bright yellow star at the center of the image.

In Westerlund 1:[18]

  • W4
  • W8a
  • W12a
  • W16a
  • W32
  • W265

In other galaxies:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gesicki, K. (1992). "A Modelling of Circumstellar BAII Lines for the Hypergiant Rho-Cassiopeiae". Astronomy and Astrophysics 254: 280. Bibcode:1992A&A...254..280G. 
  2. ^ Lobel, A.; De Jager, K.; Nieuwenhuijzen, H. (2013). "Long-term Spectroscopic Monitoring of Cool Hypergiants HR 8752, IRC+10420, and 6 Cas near the Yellow Evolutionary Void". 370 Years of Astronomy in Utrecht. Proceedings of a conference held 2–5 April 470: 167. Bibcode:2013ASPC..470..167L. 
  3. ^ Humphreys, Roberta M.; Davidson, Kris; Grammer, Skyler; Kneeland, Nathan; Martin, John C.; Weis, Kerstin; Burggraf, Birgitta (2013). "Luminous and Variable Stars in M31 and M33. I. The Warm Hypergiants and Post-Red Supergiant Evolution". arXiv:1305.6051v1 [astro-ph.SR]. 
  4. ^ a b Stothers, R. B.; Chin, C. W. (2001). "Yellow Hypergiants as Dynamically Unstable Post–Red Supergiant Stars". The Astrophysical Journal 560 (2): 934. Bibcode:2001ApJ...560..934S. doi:10.1086/322438.  edit
  5. ^ Nieuwenhuijzen, H; de Jager, C (2000). "Checking the yellow evolutionary void. Three evolutionary critical Hypergiants: HD 33579, HR 8752 & IRC +10420". Astronomy and Astrophysic 353: 163–176. Nieuwenhuijzen, H.; De Jager, C. (2000). "Checking the yellow evolutionary void. Three evolutionary critical Hypergiants: HD 33579, HR 8752 & IRC +10420". Astronomy and Astrophysics 353: 163. Bibcode:2000A&A...353..163N. 
  6. ^ Lobel, A; Israelian, G; de Jager, C; Musaev, F; Parker, J. W.; Mavrogiorgou, A (1998). "The spectral variability of the cool hypergiant rho Cassiopeiae". Astronomy and Astrophysic 330: 659–675. Bibcode:1998A&A...330..659L. Lobel, A.; Israelian, G.; De Jager, C.; Musaev, F.; Parker, J. Wm.; Mavrogiorgou, A. (1998). "The spectral variability of the cool hypergiant rho Cassiopeiae". Astronomy and Astrophysics 330: 659. Bibcode:1998A&A...330..659L. 
  7. ^ Lobel; Stefanik; Torres; Davis; Ilyin; Rosenbush (2003). "Spectroscopy of the Millennium Outburst and Recent Variability of the Yellow Hypergiant Rho Cassiopeiae". Stars as suns : activity 219: 903. Bibcode:2004IAUS..219..903L. 
  8. ^ Smith, N.; Vink, J. S.; De Koter, A. (2004). "The Missing Luminous Blue Variables and the Bistability Jump". The Astrophysical Journal 615: 475. arXiv:astro-ph/0407202. Bibcode:2004ApJ...615..475S. doi:10.1086/424030.  edit
  9. ^ Fadeyev, Y. A. (2011). "Pulsational instability of yellow hypergiants". Astronomy Letters 37 (6): 403–413. arXiv:1102.3810. Bibcode:2011AstL...37..403F. doi:10.1134/S1063773711060016.  edit
  10. ^ Langer, Norbert; Heger, Alexander; García-Segura, Guillermo (1998). "Massive Stars: The Pre-Supernova Evolution of Internal and Circumstellar Structure". Reviews in Modern Astronomy 11: Stars and Galaxies. Edited by Reinhard E. Schielicke. Hamburg 11: 57. Bibcode:1998RvMA...11...57L. 
  11. ^ Dinh-v-Trung; Muller, S. B.; Lim, J.; Kwok, S.; Muthu, C. (2009). "Probing the Mass-Loss History of the Yellow Hypergiant IRC+10420". The Astrophysical Journal 697: 409. arXiv:0903.3714. Bibcode:2009ApJ...697..409D. doi:10.1088/0004-637X/697/1/409.  edit
  12. ^ Lagadec, E.; Zijlstra, A. A.; Oudmaijer, R. D.; Verhoelst, T.; Cox, N. L. J.; Szczerba, R.; Mékarnia, D.; Van Winckel, H. (2011). "A double detached shell around a post-red supergiant: IRAS 17163-3907, the Fried Egg nebula". Astronomy & Astrophysics 534: L10. arXiv:1109.5947. Bibcode:2011A&A...534L..10L. doi:10.1051/0004-6361/201117521.  edit
  13. ^ Benaglia, P.; Vink, J. S.; Martí, J.; Maíz Apellániz, J.; Koribalski, B.; Crowther, P. A. (2007). "Testing the predicted mass-loss bi-stability jump at radio wavelengths". Astronomy and Astrophysics 467 (3): 1265. arXiv:astro-ph/0703577. Bibcode:2007A&A...467.1265B. doi:10.1051/0004-6361:20077139.  edit
  14. ^ Langer, N.; Norman, C. A.; De Koter, A.; Vink, J. S.; Cantiello, M.; Yoon, S. -C. (2007). "Pair creation supernovae at low and high redshift". Astronomy and Astrophysics 475 (2): L19. arXiv:0708.1970. Bibcode:2007A&A...475L..19L. doi:10.1051/0004-6361:20078482.  edit
  15. ^ Georgy, C. (2012). "Yellow supergiants as supernova progenitors: An indication of strong mass loss for red supergiants?". Astronomy & Astrophysics 538: L8–L2. arXiv:1111.7003. Bibcode:2012A&A...538L...8G. doi:10.1051/0004-6361/201118372.  edit
  16. ^ Maund, J. R.; Fraser, M.; Ergon, M.; Pastorello, A.; Smartt, S. J.; Sollerman, J.; Benetti, S.; Botticella, M. -T.; Bufano, F.; Danziger, I. J.; Kotak, R.; Magill, L.; Stephens, A. W.; Valenti, S. (2011). "The Yellow Supergiant Progenitor of the Type II Supernova 2011dh in M51". The Astrophysical Journal 739 (2): L37. arXiv:1106.2565. Bibcode:2011ApJ...739L..37M. doi:10.1088/2041-8205/739/2/L37.  edit
  17. ^ Clark, J. S.; Negueruela, I.; González-Fernández, C. (2013). "IRAS 18357-0604 – an analogue of the galactic yellow hypergiant IRC +10420?". Astronomy & Astrophysics 561: A15. doi:10.1051/0004-6361/201322772.  edit
  18. ^ Clark, J. S.; Negueruela, I.; Crowther, P. A.; Goodwin, S. P. (2005). "On the massive stellar population of the super star cluster Westerlund 1". Astronomy and Astrophysics 434 (3): 949. arXiv:astro-ph/0504342. Bibcode:2005A&A...434..949C. doi:10.1051/0004-6361:20042413.  edit
  19. ^ a b c d De Jager, C. (1998). "The yellow hypergiants". Astronomy and Astrophysics Review 8 (3): 145–180. Bibcode:1998A&ARv...8..145D. doi:10.1007/s001590050009.  edit
  20. ^ a b Humphreys, R. M.; Weis, K.; Davidson, K.; Bomans, D. J.; Burggraf, B. (2014). "LUMINOUS AND VARIABLE STARS IN M31 AND M33. II. LUMINOUS BLUE VARIABLES, CANDIDATE LBVs, Fe II EMISSION LINE STARS, AND OTHER SUPERGIANTS". The Astrophysical Journal 790: 48. doi:10.1088/0004-637X/790/1/48.  edit