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Star formation:

atoms must be accumulated in order for
their collective pull of gravity to keep them together. Even
more mass is required in the presence of heat, rotation, and
magnetism, which oppose gravitational contraction.
Star formation only begins once gravity becomes the
dominating force, causing a cloud to lose its equilibrium and
start contracting. Radical changes are made to the clouds
internal structure before equilibrium is restored.

Stage 1 Interstellar cloud huge, dense cloud that

collapses when a pocket of gas becomes gravitationally
unstable, fragmenting the cloud into smaller and smaller
clumps of matter; produces anywhere from a few dozen to
hundreds of stars
Stage 2 Collapsing cloud fragment shrinks substantially
in size; fragments eventually become dense enough to trap
radiation, causing the temperature and pressure to rise, and
fragmentation to cease
Stage 3 Fragmentation ceases begins to resemble a star;
dense, opaque region at the center called protostar; mass
grows but radius shrinks; contains a photosphere surface,
with material opaque to radiation it emits
Stage 4 Protostar physical properties can be plotted on
H-R diagram; pressure close to, but not in equilibrium with,

gravity; evolutionary track motion of stars location on

diagram as it evolves, early evolutionary track called KelvinHelmholtz contraction phase


T Tauri star protostar in late stages of formation, often

exhibiting violent surface activity; T Tauri wind bipolar
jets; observed to brighten significantly in short periods of
time, supporting theory of rapid evolution during final phase
of star formation; contains trace amounts of lithium, an
indicator of stellar youth; loses up to 50% of its mass before
Classic T Tauri has a massive accretion disk that
displays strong emission lines
Weak T Tauri weak to nonexistent disk that may have
resulted in a planetesimal
Stage 5 Protostar evolution gas is now completely
ionized, but protons do not have enough thermal energy to
undergo nuclear binding; contraction rate depends on rate at

which protostars internal energy can be radiated away into

Stage 6 Newborn star protons begin fusing into helium
nuclei in the core; marked by slight contraction
Stage 7 Main sequence pressure and gravity are balanced;
rate of nuclear energy generation equals rate at which energy
is radiated from the surface
Zero-age main sequence main-sequence line for newborn
stars predicted by theory
The minimum mass of gas needed to generate core
temperatures high enough for nuclear fusion is about 0.08
solar masses. Brown dwarfs are failed stars with masses
too low for nuclear burning, with one example being Jupiter
Shock wave shell of gas driven outward by high
temperatures and pressures that push thin matter into dense
sheets; considered a triggering mechanism that initiates star
formation in a chain reaction; generated by emission nebulae,
planetary nebulae, supernovae, galaxy spiral-arm waves, and
interactions between galaxies
Star cluster group of stars formed from the same parent
cloud and lying in the same region of space; usually found in
plane of Milky Way
Association less dense cluster covering a larger area; T
associations contain T Tauri stars while OB associations
contain O- and B-type stars
Open cluster loose and irregular; distance of a few parsecs
across; typically contain from a few hundred to a few tens of
thousands of stars
Globular cluster usually outside Milky Way plane;
contains hundreds of thousands to millions of stars spread
out over about 50 pc; most are at least 10 billion years old,

so upper-main-sequence stars have already been exhausted;

contains oldest known stars in galaxy; Classes I-XII
classification based on number of members; follows trend of
decreasing core density, decreasing presence of halo, and
increasing homogeneity
Low-mass stars are more common, because the first
massive stars to form tend to disrupt their environment and
prevent more high-mass stars from forming.
Encounters with giant molecular clouds remove cluster
stars. The lifetime of a cluster depends on its mass, and
clusters eventually dissolve into individual stars like the Sun.
Stellar Evolution:
Hydrostatic equilibrium normal situation in which outward
pressure of hot gas exactly balances inward pull of gravity in
a main sequence star
Core-hydrogen burning slow
process in which hydrogen fuses
into helium in a stars core
No red dwarfs (low-mass
stars on bottom-right of H-R
diagram) have ever left the main
sequence. Conversely, most blue
giants (high-mass stars on top-left)
have burned out long ago.
As a main-sequence star ages,
its temperature, luminosity, and
radius increase slowly. As the
hydrogen in the core is consumed,
helium content increases (fastest at
the center), and the star begins to

leave the main sequence. A Sun-like star begins to run out

of fuel after about 10 billion years. The outward-pushing
gas pressure weakens, and gravity forces the inner core to
start contracting. Higher temperatures are required for
helium nuclei to fuse into heavier elements due to
electromagnetic repulsion. In the
hydrogen-shell burning stage, hydrogen
is fused even more rapidly than before
and energy is generated faster, causing
the star to brighten.
The overlying layers expand and
cool. As the surface temperature falls,
the star follows the horizontal path from its main-sequence
location known as the subgiant branch. The interior
becomes mostly opaque, and convection carries the cores
energy output to the surface, dramatically increasing its
temperature. Here the star follows the vertical path known
as the red-giant branch.
About 100 million years after a solar-mass star leaves
the main sequence, the central density has reached about
kg/m3 and the temperature has reached about
K, which
is high enough for helium to fuse into carbon. Three helium4 nuclei (alpha particles) are combined into carbon-12 in the
triple-alpha process.
The Pauli exclusion principle prohibits electrons in the
core of the star from being squeezed too close together.
Electron degeneracy describes the
condition in which they have reached the
state of becoming incompressible, and
contact between electrons is called
electron degeneracy pressure. This sort

of pressure is independent of temperature, so nuclear

reaction rates increase, and the temperature increases rapidly
in a helium flash. Soon, the core is heated to the point where
normal thermal pressure is restored. Now, the star is stably
burning both helium and hydrogen in what is called the
horizontal branch of the H-R diagram.
As the carbon core shrinks but grows in radius, the
outer envelope expands yet again, and the star becomes a red
supergiant on the asymptotic-giant branch.
At a density of about
kg/m3, the electrons in the
core once again become degenerate. The helium-burning
shell becomes subject to a series of explosive helium-shell
flashes caused by enormous pressure and extreme sensitivity
of the triple-alpha burning rate to small changes in
temperature. The unstable outer layers increasingly fluctuate
in size until the envelope is ejected and forms a planetary
nebula, a shell of warm, glowing gas completely surrounding
the core. Over time, it spreads out and cools before
The hot, small, and dim carbon core that remains is now
called a white dwarf. A DA white dwarf retains hydrogen in
its outer envelope, while a low mass star that never reaches
helium fusion or a
binary member
whose envelope
has been stripped
away by its
companion forms a
helium/DB white
dwarf. A highmass, high-

temperature star may instead form a neon-oxygen white

dwarf. After a while, the white dwarf completely burns out
and becomes a black dwarf, with a temperature of absolute

Stellar evolution differs based

on mass. The dividing line between
high-mass and low-mass stars is
usually around 8 solar masses when
the carbon core forms. High-mass
stars are able to fuse up to oxygen
and even higher elements, and
usually end in a supernova. No
helium flash occurs for stars more
massive than about 2.5 solar masses.
To the left are evolutionary tracks
for higher-mass stars.
In star clusters, the main
sequence turnoff is the highluminosity end of the stars that are
just about to leave the main

sequence. The mass of the star evolving off the main

sequence at a certain instant is known as the turnoff mass.
Blue stragglers are stars on the main sequence that have
missed the turnoff point because they formed more recently
through mergers of lower-mass stars.
Evolution can be very different in binary-star systems if
the two stars are close in proximity. In this case, each star
has its own Roche lobe, inside of which the gravitational pull
dominates the effects of the other star. The Roche lobes
meet at the inner Lagrangian point, where the gravitation of
the two stars balance the rotation of the binary.

Stellar explosions:

Nova increase in brightness of white dwarf by a factor of

10,000 or more in a matter of days, then returns to original
luminosity; results from explosion caused by matter falling
onto surface from atmosphere of binary companion; light
curve shows rapid rise and slow decline

Classical nova one outburst of 8-15 magnitudes with

quick brightening but slow recession to original amplitude;
caused by thermonuclear runaway of hydrogen on white
Dwarf nova frequent (10-1000 day period) outbursts
of 2-6 magnitudes; caused by accretion as explained in the
disk instability model or the mass transfer burst model
Recurrent nova 4-9 magnitudes; 10-100 year period of
outbursts that eject
discrete shells at
velocities comparable
to those of classical
novae; type A closer
to classical nova, type
B closer to dwarf

Accretion disk swirling, flattened disk of matter revolving

around white dwarf; formed by material leaving companion;
hot inner part radiates in visible, ultraviolet, and X-ray parts
of spectrum; hot spot is point at which stream of matter
strikes accretion disk
The more massive a star is, the heavier elements it can
fuse. A star of 20 solar masses burns hydrogen for 10
million years, helium for 1 million years, carbon for 1000
years, oxygen for 1 year, and silicon for a week; the iron
core grows for less than a day. Iron is the most stable
element (it has the greatest nuclear binding energy), and
energy cannot be obtained from either its fusion or its fission.
Photodisintegration process in which individual photons
are able to split iron into lighter nuclei repeatedly until only
protons and neutrons remain; occurs when star temperature
reaches nearly 10 billion K
Neutronization as core density rises, protons and electrons
collide to form neutrons and neutrinos, nearly massless and
chargeless particles moving almost at the speed of light
Neutron degeneracy pressure takes place in shrinking core
when contact between neutrons prevent further gravitational
The entire collapse of the iron core takes only about a
second. Then the core rebounds, sending an enormous shock
wave that blasts all the overlying layers into space. The star
explodes in a core-collapse supernova (Type II), whose
brightness may rival that of its entire galaxy.
Supernova progenitors iron core implodes; protons and
electrons fuse to form neutrons and neutrinos; characterized
by dramatic increase of brightness and fading; form neutrons
stars and black holes

Type I supernova hydrogenpoor; light curve similar in

shape to that of a nova
Type II supernova light
curve shows hydrogen;
usually has a plateau in the
curve a few months after
maximum; equally as common as Type I
Chandrasekhar mass 1.4-solar-mass limit for white dwarfs
Carbon-detonation supernova (Type I) takes place when an
accreting white dwarf exceeds Chandrasekhar mass, or when
two white dwarfs in binary system collide and merge;
pressure of degenerate electrons cannot withstand pull of
gravity; internal temperature rapidly rises and carbon fuses
into heavier elements; used as standard candles because of
small luminosity range, which can be derived from rate
Stellar nucleosynthesis nuclear fusion that forms the rest of
the elements in the universe
Heavier elements
whose atomic masses are
multiples of 4 usually form
through helium capture.
Neutron capture, or the
s(slow)-process, involves
adding neutrons to a
nucleus, causing it to
become unstable and decay
radioactively into a stable
nucleus of a different
element. The r(rapid)process only occurs during

supernova explosions, and produces

the heaviest elements known in the
universe. Each new generation of
stars increases the concentration of
the heaviest elements in the
universe, passing them on to the
next generation. Because of this,
the spectra of the youngest stars
usually show the heaviest elements,
and their abundance is continually increasing.
Degenerate gas exists in core remnant; follows laws of
quantum mechanics, i.e. pressure depends on particle speed,
not temperature; degenerate particles (electrons for white
dwarfs, neutrons for neutron stars) fill lower energy levels
first, making compression extremely difficult; increasing
mass increases compression and reduces volume
Neutron stars:
Neutron star extremely small, dense, solid innermost part
of the core that remains as a supernova remnant; composed
purely of neutrons; produces no nuclear reactions; rotates
extremely rapidly, following
conservation of angular
momentum; very strong
magnetic fields whose lines
are squeezed closer together
by contracting material;
rotation slows and then ceases
as energy is radiated into space;
have theoretical mass limit of
3 solar masses, which does not

take magnetism and rotation into account

Pulsar neutron star with stable pulse period of 0.03-0.3
seconds and duration caused by radiation (usually radio, but
sometimes visible, X-ray, and gamma-ray) emitted in narrow
searchlight pattern, often described as lighthouse model;
usually has high velocity because
energy from asymmetrical
supernova caused it to recoil in
opposite direction; glitches or
sudden increases in angular velocity
occur from decrease in volume
X-ray burster sudden period of
rapid nuclear burning and release of
energy in the form of X-ray
radiation lasting only a few seconds; occurs when neutron
star in binary system accretes matter onto surface, raising
temperature until hydrogen fusion is able to take place
Millisecond pulsar rotates very rapidly and has
millisecond-long pulse period; paradoxically found in
globular clusters, which usually contain older stars; possible
explanation involves companion star providing matter that
strikes almost parallel to neutron stars surface, causing it to
spin faster
Gamma-ray burst irregular flashes of gamma rays that
release tremendous amounts of energy within seconds from
cosmological distances; light curve changes instantaneously
(not blurred like that of a larger object), implying that the
source of gamma-ray bursts come from sources no larger
than a few hundred kilometers across; pictured as relativistic
fireballs, or expanding regions of superhot gas

Black holes:
If the core remnant is massive enough that gravity
overpowers all other forces acting on it, then it becomes a
point of singularity known as a black hole, which is able to
prevent light from escaping. Only its gravitational field stays
behind and can be measured.
Schwarzschild radius critical radius at which escape speed
from object equals speed of light; calculated as
( solar masses; km)
Event horizon surface of imaginary sphere with radius
equal to Schwarzschild radius and centered on collapsing
star; defines region within which something can no longer be
detected from outside
The region surrounding a black hole is a source of
energy (rapidly varying X-rays due to accretion from a
companion of small diameter, since it takes time for light to
travel across an object). Material falling into a black hole

becomes stretched and squeezed, which produces a high

amount of friction. Gravitational redshift is induced by the
black holes gravitational field and causes light to be
redshifted to infinitely long wavelengths.
Variable stars:
Variable star star whose luminosity changes with time
Cataclysmic/explosive variable nova or supernova
Intrinsic variable variability is a
basic trait and not dependent on
being part of binary system
Eruptive variable usually a premain sequence star that is still
condensing and is much larger or
smaller than average main sequence
star; sometimes is red giant that
easily loses gas or is part of binary
Symbiotic nova slow irregular eruptive variables
composed of red giant (usually a Mira variable) and white
dwarf below Chandrasekhar limit
Pulsating variable stars class of intrinsic variables whose
luminosity varies cyclically because of rising and falling in
opacity and internal pressure; experiencing period of
instability; includes (a) RR Lyrae and (b) Cepheid variables,
whose light curves are shown below

Cepheids follow the


relationship. Type I and Type II Cepheids differ in the fact

that Type I Cepheids are usually younger stars with higher
metallicities and shorter pulsation periods, while Type II
Cepheids are usually Population II stars. Type IIs are
fainter by about 1.6 magnitudes and are divided into the BL
Herculis (periods of 1-4 days), W Virginis (10-20 days), and
RV Tauri (>20 days) subclasses.
All RR Lyrae stars have
about the same luminosity of
about 100 solar luminosities. RR
Lyrae variables are commonly
found in globular clusters and
often used as standard candles.
The instability strip is a
near-vertical region on the H-R
Diagram that consists of
internally unstable, post-mainsequence stars, such as those described above.
Mira variable red giant on asymptotic branch, period
longer than 100 days, amplitude greater than 1 order of
magnitude in infrared and 2.5 magnitudes in visible; has
already lost about half of initial mass and is at about 2 solar
masses; 75% not spherically symmetric; period increases or
decreases by factor of 3 over long periods of time due to
thermal pulses events in which helium shell near core
temporarily undergoes nuclear fusion
Semiregular variable name refers to period; giant or
supergiant with period between 20-2000 days and irregular
light curve shape
SRA late-type giants, persistent periodicity and
similar to Mira variables, but with smaller amplitudes

SRB alternating intervals of periodic and slow

irregular changes; described by mean period
SRC amplitudes on 1 order of magnitude, periods of
about 30 to several thousand days
SRD F, G, or K spectral types; amplitudes range from
0.1 to 4 magnitudes, periods from 30-1100 days
RV Tauri variable varies in luminosity (by up to 4
magnitudes) and spectral type (anywhere from F to M) with
periods of 30-150 days; exhibits alternating, changing
primary and secondary minima
RVa constant mean luminosity
RVb periodic variations in mean brightness; includes
the prototype RV Tauri
ZZ Ceti / DAV variable white dwarf with small luminosity
variations of 0.001 to 0.2 magnitudes and short periods of
30-1200 seconds due to ionization and hydrogen
recombination in the outer envelope