The Stars Portal


The Sun in white light.jpg
Image of the Sun, a G-type main-sequence star, the closest to Earth

A star is an astronomical object comprising a luminous spheroid of plasma held together by its gravity. The nearest star to Earth is the Sun. Many other stars are visible to the naked eye at night, but their immense distances from Earth make them appear as fixed points of light. The most prominent stars have been categorised into constellations and asterisms, and many of the brightest stars have proper names. Astronomers have assembled star catalogues that identify the known stars and provide standardized stellar designations. The observable universe contains an estimated 1022 to 1024 stars. Only about 4,000 of these stars are visible to the naked eye, all within the Milky Way galaxy.

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. Its total mass is the main factor determining its evolution and eventual fate. A star shines for most of its active life due to the thermonuclear fusion of hydrogen into helium in its core. This process releases energy that traverses the star's interior and radiates into outer space. At the end of a star's lifetime, its core becomes a stellar remnant: a white dwarf, a neutron star, or—if it is sufficiently massive—a black hole.

Stellar nucleosynthesis in stars or their remnants creates almost all naturally occurring chemical elements heavier than lithium. Stellar mass loss or supernova explosions return chemically enriched material to the interstellar medium. These elements are then recycled into new stars. Astronomers can determine stellar properties—including mass, age, metallicity (chemical composition), variability, distance, and motion through space—by carrying out observations of a star's apparent brightness, spectrum, and changes in its position in the sky over time.

Stars can form orbital systems with other astronomical objects, as in the case of planetary systems and star systems with two or more stars. When two such stars have a relatively close orbit, their gravitational interaction can significantly impact their evolution. Stars can form part of a much larger gravitationally bound structure, such as a star cluster or a galaxy. (Full article...)

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Mira, /ˈmrə/, also known as Omicron Ceti (or ο Ceti / ο Cet), is a red giant star estimated 200-400 light years away in the constellation Cetus. Mira is a binary star, consisting of the red giant Mira A along with Mira B. Mira A is also an oscillating variable star and was the first non-supernova variable star discovered, with the possible exception of Algol. Apart from the unusual Eta Carinae, Mira is the brightest periodic variable in the sky that is not visible to the naked eye for part of its cycle. Its distance is uncertain; pre-Hipparcos estimates centered around 220 light-years, while Hipparcos data suggests a distance of 418 light-years, albeit with a margin of error of ~14%.

Evidence that the variability of Mira was known in ancient China, Babylon or Greece is at best only circumstantial. In 1638 Johannes Holwarda determined a period of the star's reappearances, eleven months; he is often credited with the discovery of Mira's variability. Johannes Hevelius was observing it at the same time and named it "Mira" (meaning "wonderful" or "astonishing," in Latin) in 1662's Historiola Mirae Stellae, for it acted like no other known star. Ismail Bouillaud then estimated its period at 333 days, less than one day off the modern value of 332 days (and perfectly forgivable, as Mira is known to vary slightly in period, and may even be slowly changing over time). The star is estimated to be a 6 billion year old red giant.

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The North Star and circumpolar stars in a photograph with a long shutter speed of several hours. Note that the stars near the celestial pole make less of a trail with the long exposure
Photo credit: User:LCGS Russ

A circumpolar star is a star that, as viewed from a given latitude on Earth, never sets (that is, never disappears below the horizon), due to its proximity to one of the celestial poles. Circumpolar stars are therefore visible from said location towards nearest pole for the entire night on every night of the year (and would be continuously visible throughout the day too, were they not overwhelmed by the Sun's glare). All circumpolar stars are within the circumpolar circle. This was in fact the original meaning of "Arctic Circle", before the current geographical meaning, meaning "Circle of the Bears" (Ursa Major, the Great Bear; and Ursa Minor, the Little Bear), from Greek αρκτικός (arktikos), "near the Bear", from the word άρκτος (arktos) bear.

As Earth spins daily on its axis, the stars appear to rotate in circular paths around one of the celestial poles (the north celestial pole for observers in the Northern Hemisphere, or the south celestial pole for observers in the Southern Hemisphere). Stars far from a celestial pole appear to rotate in large circles; stars located very close to a celestial pole rotate in small circles and hence hardly seem to engage in any diurnal motion at all. Depending on the observer's latitude on Earth, some stars — the circumpolar ones — are close enough to the celestial pole to remain continuously above the horizon, while other stars dip below the horizon for some portion of their daily circular path (and others remain permanently below the horizon).

The circumpolar stars appear to lie within a circle that is centered at the celestial pole and tangential to the horizon. At the Earth's North Pole, the north celestial pole is directly overhead, and all stars that are visible at all (that is, all stars in the northern celestial hemisphere) are circumpolar. As one travels south, the north celestial pole moves towards the northern horizon. More and more stars that are at a distance from it begin to disappear below the horizon for some portion of their daily "orbit", and the circle containing the remaining circumpolar stars becomes increasingly small. At the Earth's equator this circle vanishes to a single point – the celestial pole itself – which lies on the horizon, and there are therefore effectively no circumpolar stars at all.

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Messier 80
Photo credit: NASA

This stellar swarm is Messier 80 (NGC 6093), one of the densest of the 147 known globular star clusters in the Milky Way galaxy, located about 28,000 light-years from Earth. Every star visible in this image is either more highly evolved than, or in a few rare cases more massive than, our own Sun. Especially obvious are the bright red giants, which are stars similar to the Sun in mass that are nearing the ends of their lives.

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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 [ˈtsʰyːə ˈʌtəsn̩ ˈpʁɑːə]. 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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