A star is an 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. The observable Universe contains an estimated 1×1024 stars, but most 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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Photo credit: NASA's STEREO
The Sun is the star at the center of the Solar System. The Sun has a diameter of about 1,392,000 kilometers (865,000 mi) (about 109 Earths), and by itself accounts for about 99.86% of the Solar System's mass; the remainder consists of the planets (including Earth), asteroids, meteoroids, comets, and dust in orbit. About three-quarters of the Sun's mass consists of hydrogen, while most of the rest is helium. Less than 2% consists of other elements, including iron, oxygen, carbon, neon, and others.
The Sun's color is white, although from the surface of the Earth it may appear yellow because of atmospheric scattering. Its stellar classification, based on spectral class, is G2V, and is informally designated a yellow star, because the majority of its radiation is in the yellow-green portion of the visible spectrum. In this spectral class label, G2 indicates its surface temperature of approximately 5,778 K (5,505 °C), and V (Roman five) indicates that the Sun, like most stars, is a main sequence star, and thus generates its energy by nuclear fusion of hydrogen nuclei into helium.
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A binary star is a star system consisting of two stars orbiting around their common center of mass. The brighter star is called the primary and the other is its companion star, comes, or secondary. Research between the early 19th century and today suggests that many stars are part of either binary star systems or star systems with more than two stars, called multiple star systems. The term double star may be used synonymously with binary star, but more generally, a double star may be either a binary star or an optical double star which consists of two stars with no physical connection but which appear close together in the sky as seen from the Earth. A double star may be determined to be optical if its components have sufficiently different proper motions or radial velocities, or if parallax measurements reveal its two components to be at sufficiently different distances from the Earth. Most known double stars have not yet been determined to be either bound binary star systems or optical doubles.
Binary star systems are very important in astrophysics because calculations of their orbits allow the masses of their component stars to be directly determined, which in turn allows other stellar parameters, such as radius and density, to be indirectly estimated. This also determines an empirical mass-luminosity relationship (MLR) from which the masses of single stars can be estimated.
Binary stars are often detected optically, in which case they are called visual binaries. Many visual binaries have long orbital periods of several centuries or millennia and therefore have orbits which are uncertain or poorly known. They may also be detected by indirect techniques, such as spectroscopy (spectroscopic binaries) or astrometry (astrometric binaries). If a binary star happens to orbit in a plane along our line of sight, its components will eclipse and transit each other; these pairs are called eclipsing binaries, or, as they are detected by their changes in brightness during eclipses and transits, photometric binaries.
If components in binary star systems are close enough they can gravitationally distort their mutual outer stellar atmospheres. In some cases, these close binary systems can exchange mass, which may bring their evolution to stages that single stars cannot attain. Examples of binaries are Sirius and Cygnus X-1 (of which one member is probably a black hole). Binary stars are also common as the nuclei of many planetary nebulae, and are the progenitors of both novae and type Ia supernovae.
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Hipparchus was born in Nicaea (now Iznik, Turkey), and probably died on the island of Rhodes. He is known to have been a working astronomer at least from 147 to 127 BC. Hipparchus is considered the greatest ancient astronomical observer and, by some, the greatest overall astronomer of antiquity. He was the first whose quantitative and accurate models for the motion of the Sun and Moon survive. For this he certainly made use of the observations and perhaps the mathematical techniques accumulated over centuries by the Chaldeans from Babylonia. He developed trigonometry and constructed trigonometric tables, and he has solved several problems of spherical trigonometry. With his solar and lunar theories and his trigonometry, he may have been the first to develop a reliable method to predict solar eclipses. His other reputed achievements include the discovery of Earth's precession, the compilation of the first comprehensive star catalog of the western world, and possibly the invention of the astrolabe, also of the armillary sphere, which he used during the creation of much of the star catalogue. It would be three centuries before Claudius Ptolemaeus' synthesis of astronomy would supersede the work of Hipparchus; it is heavily dependent on it in many areas.
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