What are they and how do they form?
A star is a massive, luminous ball of plasma that is held together by gravity. The nearest star to Earth is the Sun, which is the source of most of the energy on Earth. Other stars are visible in the night sky, when they are not outshone by the Sun. Historically, the most prominent stars on the celestial sphere were grouped together into constellations, and the brightest stars gained proper names. Extensive catalogues of stars have been assembled by astronomers, which provide standardized star designations.
For most of its life, a star shines due to thermonuclear fusion in its core releasing energy that traverses the star’s interior and then radiates into outer space. Almost all elements heavier than hydrogen and helium were created by fusion processes in stars. 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 the 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.
A star begins as a collapsing cloud of material composed primarily of hydrogen, along with helium and trace amounts of heavier elements. Once the stellar core is sufficiently dense, some of the hydrogen is steadily converted into helium through the process of nuclear fusion. The remainder of the star’s interior carries energy away from the core through a combination of radiative and convective processes. The star’s internal pressure prevents it from collapsing further under its own gravity. Once the hydrogen fuel at the core is exhausted, those stars having at least 0.4 times the mass of the Sun expand to become a red giant, in some cases fusing heavier elements at the core or in shells around the core. The star then evolves into a degenerate form, recycling a portion of the matter into the interstellar environment, where it will form a new generation of stars with a higher proportion of heavy elements.
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 cluster or a galaxy.
Pleiades: In astronomy, the Pleiades, or seven sisters, (Messier object 45) are an open star cluster in the constellation of Taurus. It is among the nearest star clusters to Earth and is the cluster most obvious to the naked eye in the night sky. Pleiades has several meanings in different cultures and traditions.The cluster is dominated by hot blue stars that have formed within the last 100 million years. Dust that forms a faint reflection nebulosity around the brightest stars was thought at first to be left over from the formation of the cluster (hence the alternate name Maia Nebula after the star Maia), but is now known to be an unrelated dust cloud in the interstellar medium that the stars are currently passing through. Astronomers estimate that the cluster will survive for about another 250 million years, after which it will disperse due to gravitational interactions with its galactic neighbourhood.
Orion: The constellation Orion includes the prominent asterism known as the Belt of Orion: three bright stars in a row (The Three Kings). Surrounding the belt at roughly similar distances are four bright stars, which are considered to represent the outline of the hunter’s body. Apparently descending from the ‘belt’ is a smaller line of three stars (one of which is in fact not a star but the Orion Nebula), known as the hunter’s ‘sword’. In artistic renderings, the surrounding constellations are sometimes related to Orion: he is depicted standing next to the river Eridanus with his two hunting dogs Canis Major and Canis Minor, fighting Taurus the bull. He is sometimes depicted hunting Lepus the hare.
The Orion Nebula is also believed to be the ‘Birth Place’ of stars and it is quite possible that our very own sun was born here.
Life cycle of a Star:
Stars are a fascinating component of our universe. They may seem like permanent objects in the sky, but technology has allowed us to photograph the heavens, and now we know more about stars than ever before. They are born, they live, and then they die. How does this happen?
A star’s life is long compared to that of a human, but we can see the stages of stellar birth, aging, and death in the heavens. They follow a pattern similar to many of the life cycles we see here on earth. Stars are born, they “grow up,” exist many years, and then they die, and there’s an exciting battle between the force of gravity and gas pressure too that makes it exciting and potentially explosive!
Stars are born in nebulae. Huge clouds of dust and gas collapse under gravitational forces, forming protostars. These young stars undergo further collapse, forming main sequence stars.
Stars expand as they grow old. As the core runs out of hydrogen and then helium, the core contacts and the outer layers expand, cool, and become less bright. This is a red giant or a red super giant (depending on the initial mass of the star). It will eventually collapse and explode. Its fate is determined by the original mass of the star; it will become either a black dwarf, neutron star, or black hole.
- The Sun in the center of our solar system is a star.
- There are around 200 billion stars in the Milky Way alone.
- VY Canis Majoris is the largest known star in our galaxy, if this star was in the center of our solar system its outer atmosphere would reach the orbit of Saturn.
- One of the smallest known stars in our galaxy is VB 10, it is only around 20% larger than Jupiter.
- Very large stars have a lifespan of only a few million years while very small stars can exist for trillions of years.
- There is a maximum of 2,500 stars visible to the naked eye at any one time in the night sky.
- The nearest star to our solar system is Proxima Centauri which is 4.2 light years away.
- The Sun is part of a single star system but there are also binary and multiple stars where two or more stars orbit around each other.
- Supernovas are explosions generated by large stars when they come to the end of their lifespan.
- The lifespan of our own star, the Sun, is around 10 billion years.