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Instead, they should eventually just cool to become white dwarfs and then black dwarves. Although our solar system only has one star, most stars like our sun are not solitary, but are binaries where two stars orbit each other, or multiples involving even more stars.
In fact, just one-third of stars like our sun are single, while two-thirds are multiples — for instance, the closest neighbor to our solar system, Proxima Centauri , is part of a multiple system that also includes Alpha Centauri A and Alpha Centauri B.
Still, class G stars like our sun only make up some 7 percent of all stars we see — when it comes to systems in general, about 30 percent in our galaxy are multiple , while the rest are single, according to Charles J.
Lada of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Binary stars develop when two protostars form near each other. One member of this pair can influence its companion if they are close enough together, stripping away matter in a process called mass transfer.
If one of the members is a giant star that leaves behind a neutron star or a black hole, an X-ray binary can form, where matter pulled from the stellar remnant's companion can get extremely hot — more than 1 million F , C and emit X-rays.
If a binary includes a white dwarf, gas pulled from a companion onto the white dwarf's surface can fuse violently in a flash called a nova.
At times, enough gas builds up for the dwarf to collapse, leading its carbon to fuse nearly instantly and the dwarf to explode in a Type I supernova, which can outshine a galaxy for a few months.
Astronomers describe star brightness in terms of magnitude and luminosity. The magnitude of a star is based on a scale more than 2, years old, devised by Greek astronomer Hipparchus around BC.
He numbered groups of stars based on their brightness as seen from Earth — the brightest ones were called first magnitude stars, the next brightest were second magnitude, and so on up to sixth magnitude, the faintest visible ones.
Nowadays astronomers refer to a star's brightness as viewed from Earth as its apparent magnitude, but since the distance between Earth and the star can affect the light one sees from it, they now also describe the actual brightness of a star using the term absolute magnitude, which is defined by what its apparent magnitude would be if it were 10 parsecs or The magnitude scale now runs to more than six and less than one, even descending into negative numbers — the brightest star in the night sky is Sirius , with an apparent magnitude of Luminosity is the power of a star — the rate at which it emits energy.
Although power is generally measured in watts — for instance, the sun's luminosity is trillion trillion watts— the luminosity of a star is usually measured in terms of the luminosity of the sun.
For example, Alpha Centauri A is about 1. To figure out luminosity from absolute magnitude, one must calculate that a difference of five on the absolute magnitude scale is equivalent to a factor of on the luminosity scale — for instance, a star with an absolute magnitude of 1 is times as luminous as a star with an absolute magnitude of 6.
Stars come in a range of colors, from reddish to yellowish to blue. The color of a star depends on surface temperature. A star might appear to have a single color, but actually emits a broad spectrum of colors, potentially including everything from radio waves and infrared rays to ultraviolet beams and gamma rays.
Different elements or compounds absorb and emit different colors or wavelengths of light, and by studying a star's spectrum, one can divine what its composition might be.
Astronomers measure star temperatures in a unit known as the kelvin , with a temperature of zero K "absolute zero" equaling minus A dark red star has a surface temperature of about 2, K 2, C and 4, F ; a bright red star, about 3, K 3, C and 5, F ; the sun and other yellow stars, about 5, K 5, C and 9, F ; a blue star, about 10, K 9, C and 17, F to 50, K 49, C and 89, F.
The surface temperature of a star depends in part on its mass and affects its brightness and color.
Specifically, the luminosity of a star is proportional to temperature to the fourth power. For instance, if two stars are the same size but one is twice as hot as the other in kelvin, the former would be 16 times as luminous as the latter.
Astronomers generally measure the size of stars in terms of the radius of our sun. For instance, Alpha Centauri A has a radius of 1.
Stars range in size from neutron stars, which can be only 12 miles 20 kilometers wide, to supergiants roughly 1, times the diameter of the sun.
The size of a star affects its brightness. Specifically, luminosity is proportional to radius squared. For instance, if two stars had the same temperature, if one star was twice as wide as the other one, the former would be four times as bright as the latter.
Astronomers represent the mass of a star in terms of the solar mass , the mass of our sun. For instance, Alpha Centauri A is 1.
Stars with similar masses might not be similar in size because they have different densities. For instance, Sirius B is roughly the same mass as the sun, but is 90, times as dense, and so is only a fiftieth its diameter.
Stars are spinning balls of roiling, electrically charged gas, and thus typically generate magnetic fields. When it comes to the sun, researchers have discovered its magnetic field can become highly concentrated in small areas, creating features ranging from sunspots to spectacular eruptions known as flares and coronal mass ejections.
A recent survey at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics found that the average stellar magnetic field increases with the star's rate of rotation and decreases as the star ages.
The metallicity of a star measures the amount of " metals " it has — that is, any element heavier than helium.
Three generations of stars may exist based on metallicity. Discover new content creators while watching a live video and show your support with Stars.
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The age, distribution, and composition of the stars in a galaxy trace the history, dynamics, and evolution of that galaxy. Moreover, stars are responsible for the manufacture and distribution of heavy elements such as carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen, and their characteristics are intimately tied to the characteristics of the planetary systems that may coalesce about them.
Consequently, the study of the birth, life, and death of stars is central to the field of astronomy. Stars are born within the clouds of dust and scattered throughout most galaxies.
A familiar example of such as a dust cloud is the Orion Nebula. Turbulence deep within these clouds gives rise to knots with sufficient mass that the gas and dust can begin to collapse under its own gravitational attraction.
As the cloud collapses, the material at the center begins to heat up. Known as a protostar, it is this hot core at the heart of the collapsing cloud that will one day become a star.
Three-dimensional computer models of star formation predict that the spinning clouds of collapsing gas and dust may break up into two or three blobs; this would explain why the majority the stars in the Milky Way are paired or in groups of multiple stars.
As the cloud collapses, a dense, hot core forms and begins gathering dust and gas. Not all of this material ends up as part of a star — the remaining dust can become planets, asteroids, or comets or may remain as dust.
In some cases, the cloud may not collapse at a steady pace. In January , an amateur astronomer, James McNeil, discovered a small nebula that appeared unexpectedly near the nebula Messier 78, in the constellation of Orion.
When observers around the world pointed their instruments at McNeil's Nebula , they found something interesting — its brightness appears to vary.
Observations with NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory provided a likely explanation: the interaction between the young star's magnetic field and the surrounding gas causes episodic increases in brightness.
A star the size of our Sun requires about 50 million years to mature from the beginning of the collapse to adulthood.
Our Sun will stay in this mature phase on the main sequence as shown in the Hertzsprung-Russell Diagram for approximately 10 billion years. Stars are fueled by the nuclear fusion of hydrogen to form helium deep in their interiors.
The outflow of energy from the central regions of the star provides the pressure necessary to keep the star from collapsing under its own weight, and the energy by which it shines.
As shown in the Hertzsprung-Russell Diagram, Main Sequence stars span a wide range of luminosities and colors, and can be classified according to those characteristics.
Despite their diminutive nature, red dwarfs are by far the most numerous stars in the Universe and have lifespans of tens of billions of years.
On the other hand, the most massive stars, known as hypergiants, may be or more times more massive than the Sun, and have surface temperatures of more than 30, K.
Hypergiants emit hundreds of thousands of times more energy than the Sun, but have lifetimes of only a few million years. Although extreme stars such as these are believed to have been common in the early Universe, today they are extremely rare - the entire Milky Way galaxy contains only a handful of hypergiants.
In general, the larger a star, the shorter its life, although all but the most massive stars live for billions of years. When a star has fused all the hydrogen in its core, nuclear reactions cease.
Deprived of the energy production needed to support it, the core begins to collapse into itself and becomes much hotter. Hydrogen is still available outside the core, so hydrogen fusion continues in a shell surrounding the core.
The increasingly hot core also pushes the outer layers of the star outward, causing them to expand and cool, transforming the star into a red giant.
If the star is sufficiently massive, the collapsing core may become hot enough to support more exotic nuclear reactions that consume helium and produce a variety of heavier elements up to iron.
However, such reactions offer only a temporary reprieve. Gradually, the star's internal nuclear fires become increasingly unstable - sometimes burning furiously, other times dying down.
These variations cause the star to pulsate and throw off its outer layers, enshrouding itself in a cocoon of gas and dust.
What happens next depends on the size of the core. Universe Learn About This Image. Stars Stars are the most widely recognized astronomical objects, and represent the most fundamental building blocks of galaxies.
Star Formation Stars are born within the clouds of dust and scattered throughout most galaxies.