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The Star Portal


A star is type of astronomical object consisting of a luminous spheroid of plasma held together by its own gravity. The nearest star to Earth is the Sun. Many other stars are visible to the naked eye from Earth during the night, appearing as a multitude of fixed luminous points in the sky due to their immense distance from Earth. Historically, the most prominent stars were grouped into constellations and asterisms, the brightest of which gained proper names. Astronomers have assembled star catalogues that identify the known stars and provide standardized stellar designations. However, most of the estimated 300 sextillion (3×1023) stars in the Universe are invisible to the naked eye from Earth, including all stars outside our galaxy, the Milky Way.

For at least a portion of its life, a star shines due to thermonuclear fusion of hydrogen into helium 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 are created by stellar nucleosynthesis during the star's lifetime, and for some stars by supernova nucleosynthesis when it explodes. Near the end of its life, a star can also contain degenerate matter. Astronomers can determine the mass, age, metallicity (chemical composition), and many other properties of a star by observing its motion through space, its luminosity, and spectrum respectively. The total mass of a star is the main factor that determines its evolution and eventual fate. Other characteristics of a star, including diameter and temperature, change over its life, while the star's environment affects its rotation and movement. A plot of the temperature of many stars against their luminosities produces a plot known as a Hertzsprung–Russell diagram (H–R diagram). Plotting a particular star on that diagram allows the age and evolutionary state of that star to be determined.

A star's life begins with the gravitational collapse of a gaseous nebula of material composed primarily of hydrogen, along with helium and trace amounts of heavier elements. When the stellar core is sufficiently dense, hydrogen becomes steadily converted into helium through nuclear fusion, releasing energy in the process. The remainder of the star's interior carries energy away from the core through a combination of radiative and convective heat transfer processes. The star's internal pressure prevents it from collapsing further under its own gravity. A star with mass greater than 0.4 times the Sun's will expand to become a red giant when the hydrogen fuel in its core is exhausted. In some cases, it will fuse heavier elements at the core or in shells around the core. As the star expands it throws a part of its mass, enriched with those heavier elements, into the interstellar environment, to be recycled later as new stars. Meanwhile, the core becomes a stellar remnant: a white dwarf, a neutron star, or if it is sufficiently massive a black hole.

Binary and multi-star systems consist of two or more stars that are gravitationally bound and generally move around each other in stable orbits. When two such stars have a relatively close orbit, their gravitational interaction can have a significant impact on their evolution. Stars can form part of a much larger gravitationally bound structure, such as a star cluster or a galaxy.

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Seventh brightest star in the night sky, Rigel.
Photo credit: Rutherfurd Observatory

Rigel, also known by its Bayer designation Beta Orionis (β Ori, β Orionis), is the brightest star in the constellation Orion and the seventh brightest star in the night sky, with visual magnitude 0.13. The star as seen from Earth is actually a triple star system, with the primary star (Rigel A) a blue-white supergiant of absolute magnitude −7.84 and around 120,000 times as luminous as the Sun. An Alpha Cygni variable, it pulsates periodically. Visible in small telescopes, Rigel B is itself a spectroscopic binary system, consisting of two main sequence blue-white stars of spectral type B9.

If viewed from a distance of 1 astronomical unit, it would span an angular diameter of 35° and shine at magnitude −38. Like other blue supergiants, Rigel has exhausted burning its core hydrogen fuel and left the main sequence, expanding and brightening as it progresses across the Hertzsprung–Russell diagram. It will end its stellar life as a type II supernova, exploding and in the process flinging out material that will serve to seed future generations of stars.

As it is both bright and moving through a region of nebulosity, Rigel lights up several dust clouds in its vicinity, most notably the IC 2118 (the Witch Head Nebula). Rigel is also associated with the Orion Nebula, which—while more or less along the same line of sight as the star—is almost twice as far away from Earth. Despite the difference in distance, projecting Rigel's path through space for its expected age brings it close to the nebula. As a result, Rigel is sometimes classified as an outlying member of the Orion OB1 Association, along with many of the other bright stars in that region of the sky.


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This diagram shows a cross-section of a solar-type star
Photo credit: NASA

Stars of different mass and age have varying internal structures. Stellar structure models describe the internal structure of a star in detail and make detailed predictions about the luminosity, the color and the future evolution of the star. Different layers of the stars transport heat up and outwards in different ways, primarily convection and radiative transfer, but thermal conduction is important in white dwarfs. The internal structure of a main sequence star depends upon the mass of the star.

In solar mass stars (0.3–1.5 solar masses), including the Sun, hydrogen-to-helium fusion occurs primarily via proton-proton chains, which do not establish a steep temperature gradient. Thus, radiation dominates in the inner portion of solar mass stars. The outer portion of solar mass stars is cool enough that hydrogen is neutral and thus opaque to ultraviolet photons, so convection dominates. Therefore, solar mass stars have radiative cores with convective envelopes in the outer portion of the star. In massive stars (greater than about 1.5 solar masses), the core temperature is above about 1.8×107 K, so hydrogen-to-helium fusion occurs primarily via the CNO cycle. In the CNO cycle, the energy generation rate scales as the temperature to the 17th power, whereas the rate scales as the temperature to the 4th power in the proton-proton chains. Due to the strong temperature sensitivity of the CNO cycle, the temperature gradient in the inner portion of the star is steep enough to make the core convective.

The simplest commonly used model of stellar structure is the spherically symmetric quasi-static model, which assumes that a star is in a steady state and that it is spherically symmetric. It contains four basic first-order differential equations: two represent how matter and pressure vary with radius; two represent how temperature and luminosity vary with radius.


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Tycho Brahe
Photo credit: Eduard Ender

Tycho Brahe, born Tyge Ottesen Brahe (de Knudstrup) (14 December 1546 – 24 October 1601), was a Danish nobleman known for his accurate and comprehensive astronomical and planetary observations. Coming from Scania, then part of Denmark, now part of modern-day Sweden, Tycho was well known in his lifetime as an astronomer and alchemist.

His Danish name "Tyge Ottesen Brahe" is pronounced in Modern Standard Danish as [ˈtˢyːə ˈʌd̥əsn̩ ˈb̥ʁɑː]. He adopted the Latinized name "Tycho Brahe" (usually /ˈtk ˈbrɑː/ or /ˈbrɑːhiː/ in English) from Tycho (sometimes written Tÿcho) at around age fifteen, and he is now generally referred to as "Tycho", as was common in Scandinavia in his time, rather than by his surname "Brahe". (The incorrect form of his name, Tycho de Brahe, appeared only much later.

Tycho Brahe was granted an estate on the island of Hven and the funding to build the Uraniborg, an early research institute, where he built large astronomical instruments and took many careful measurements. After disagreements with the new king in 1597, he was invited by the Bohemian king and Holy Roman emperor Rudolph II to Prague, where he became the official imperial astronomer. He built the new observatory at Benátky nad Jizerou. Here, from 1600 until his death in 1601, he was assisted by Johannes Kepler. Kepler later used Tycho's astronomical information to develop his own theories of astronomy.

As an astronomer, Tycho worked to combine what he saw as the geometrical benefits of the Copernican system with the philosophical benefits of the Ptolemaic system into his own model of the universe, the Tychonic system. Tycho is credited with the most accurate astronomical observations of his time, and the data was used by his assistant Kepler to derive the laws of planetary motion. No one before Tycho had attempted to make so many planetary observations.


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The Orion Belt
Photo credit: Digitized Sky Survey, ESA/ESO/NASA

Orion's Belt or the Belt of Orion is an asterism in the constellation Orion, consisting of the three bright stars Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka. The stars are more or less evenly spaced in a straight line, and so can be visualized as the belt of the hunter's clothing.


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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