The Stars Portal

Introduction

Image of the Sun, a G-type main-sequence star, the closest to Earth

A star is a luminous spheroid of plasma held together by self-gravity. The nearest star to Earth is the Sun. Many other stars are visible to the naked eye at night; 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 largely comprising hydrogen, helium, and trace heavier elements. Its total mass mainly determines 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 as a fusor, 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 planetary systems and star systems with two or more stars. When two such stars orbit closely, 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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Photo credit: User:Dbenbenn and User:Qef

Alpha Centauri (α Centauri / α Cen); (also known as Rigil Kentaurus, Rigil Kent, or Toliman) is the binary star system Alpha Centauri AB (α Cen AB), of which Alpha Centauri A (α Cen A) is the brightest star in the southern constellation of Centaurus. To the unaided eye it appears as a single star, whose total visual magnitude would identify it as the third brightest star in the night sky.

Alpha Centauri AB is 1.34 parsec or 4.37 light years away from our Sun. The two stars are the closest stars to the Sun after their companion Proxima Centauri, at 0.21 light-year away from the two, and at 4.243 light-years away from the Sun.

At −0.27v visual magnitude, Alpha Centauri appears to the naked-eye as a single star and is fainter than Sirius and Canopus. The next brightest star in the night sky is Arcturus. When considered among the individual brightest stars in the sky (excluding the Sun), Alpha Centauri A is the fourth brightest at −0.01 magnitude being only fractionally fainter than Arcturus at −0.04v magnitude. Alpha Centauri B at 1.33v magnitude is twenty-first in brightness.

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Surface magnetic field of SU Aur (a young star of T Tauri type), reconstructed by means of Zeeman-Doppler imaging
Surface magnetic field of SU Aur (a young star of T Tauri type), reconstructed by means of Zeeman-Doppler imaging
Photo credit: user:Pascalou petit

A stellar magnetic field is a magnetic field generated by the motion of conductive plasma inside a star. This motion is created through convection, which is a form of energy transport involving the physical movement of material. A localized magnetic field exerts a force on the plasma, effectively increasing the pressure without a comparable gain in density. As a result the magnetized region rises relative to the remainder of the plasma, until it reaches the star's photosphere. This creates starspots on the surface, and the related phenomenon of coronal loops.

The magnetic field of a star can be measured by means of the Zeeman effect. Normally the atoms in a star's atmosphere will absorb certain frequencies of energy in the electromagnetic spectrum, producing characteristic dark absorption lines in the spectrum. When the atoms are within a magnetic field, however, these lines become split into multiple, closely spaced lines. The energy also becomes polarized with an orientation that depends on orientation of the magnetic field. Thus the strength and direction of the star's magnetic field can be determined by examination of the Zeeman effect lines.

A star with a magnetic field will generate a magnetosphere that extends outward into the surrounding space. Field lines from this field originate at one magnetic pole on the star then end at the other pole, forming a closed loop. The magnetosphere contains charged particles that are trapped from the stellar wind, which then move along these field lines. As the star rotates, the magnetosphere rotates with it, dragging along the charged particles.

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Messier 10
Messier 10
Photo credit: NASA/WikiSky

Messier 10 or M10 (also designated NGC 6254) is a globular cluster in the constellation of Ophiuchus. It was discovered by Charles Messier.

Did you know?

  • ... the temperature on Mercury varies so extremely that it will rise up to 430 °C during the day and drop as low as -140 °C at night?
  • ... that the largest known star, VY Canis Majoris, is nearly 1800 times bigger than our Sun?

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Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, FRS (/ˌʌndrəˈʃkɑːr/ ; Tamil: சுப்பிரமணியன் சந்திரசேகர்; October 19, 1910 – August 21, 1995) was an Indian-American astrophysicist who, with William A. Fowler, won the 1983 Nobel Prize for Physics for key discoveries that led to the currently accepted theory on the later evolutionary stages of massive stars. Chandrasekhar was the nephew of Sir Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman, who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1930.

Chandrasekhar's most notable work was the astrophysical Chandrasekhar limit. The limit describes the maximum mass of a white dwarf star, ~ 1.44 solar mass, or equivalently, the minimum mass above which a star will ultimately collapse into a neutron star or black hole (following a supernova). The limit was first calculated by Chandrasekhar in 1930 during his maiden voyage from India to Cambridge, England, for his graduate studies. In 1999, the NASA named the third of its four "Great Observatories" after Chandrasekhar. The Chandra X-ray Observatory was launched and deployed by Space Shuttle Columbia on July 23, 1999. The Chandrasekhar number, an important dimensionless number of magnetohydrodynamics, is named after him. The asteroid 1958 Chandra is also named after Chandrasekhar. American astronomer Carl Sagan, who studied Mathematics under Chandrasekhar, at the University of Chicago, praised him in the book The Demon-Haunted World: "I discovered what true mathematical elegance is from Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar." From 1952 to 1971 Chandrasekhar also served as the editor of the Astrophysical Journal.

He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1983 for his studies on the physical processes important to the structure and evolution of stars. Chandrasekhar accepted this honor, but was upset that the citation mentioned only his earliest work, seeing it as a denigration of a lifetime's achievement. He shared it with William A. Fowler.


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