Guide Stars

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Despite their diminutive nature, red dwarfs are by far the most numerous stars in the Universe and have lifespans of tens of billions of years. On the other hand, the most massive stars, known as hypergiants, may be or more times more massive than the Sun, and have surface temperatures of more than 30, K.

Hypergiants emit hundreds of thousands of times more energy than the Sun, but have lifetimes of only a few million years. Although extreme stars such as these are believed to have been common in the early Universe, today they are extremely rare - the entire Milky Way galaxy contains only a handful of hypergiants.

In general, the larger a star, the shorter its life, although all but the most massive stars live for billions of years. When a star has fused all the hydrogen in its core, nuclear reactions cease. Deprived of the energy production needed to support it, the core begins to collapse into itself and becomes much hotter.


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Hydrogen is still available outside the core, so hydrogen fusion continues in a shell surrounding the core. The increasingly hot core also pushes the outer layers of the star outward, causing them to expand and cool, transforming the star into a red giant. If the star is sufficiently massive, the collapsing core may become hot enough to support more exotic nuclear reactions that consume helium and produce a variety of heavier elements up to iron.

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However, such reactions offer only a temporary reprieve. Gradually, the star's internal nuclear fires become increasingly unstable - sometimes burning furiously, other times dying down. These variations cause the star to pulsate and throw off its outer layers, enshrouding itself in a cocoon of gas and dust. What happens next depends on the size of the core. Stars Stars are the most widely recognized astronomical objects, and represent the most fundamental building blocks of galaxies. Star Formation Stars are born within the clouds of dust and scattered throughout most galaxies. Helpful Links Organization and Staff.

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Death of Stars video. Life Cycles of Stars. A Crab Walks Through Time. Average Stars Become White Dwarfs For average stars like the Sun, the process of ejecting its outer layers continues until the stellar core is exposed. This dead, but still ferociously hot stellar cinder is called a White Dwarf.


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White dwarfs, which are roughly the size of our Earth despite containing the mass of a star, once puzzled astronomers - why didn't they collapse further? What force supported the mass of the core? Quantum mechanics provided the explanation. Pressure from fast moving electrons keeps these stars from collapsing. The more massive the core, the denser the white dwarf that is formed.

Thus, the smaller a white dwarf is in diameter, the larger it is in mass! These paradoxical stars are very common - our own Sun will be a white dwarf billions of years from now. White dwarfs are intrinsically very faint because they are so small and, lacking a source of energy production, they fade into oblivion as they gradually cool down. This fate awaits only those stars with a mass up to about 1.

Above that mass, electron pressure cannot support the core against further collapse. Such stars suffer a different fate as described below. White Dwarfs May Become Novae If a white dwarf forms in a binary or multiple star system, it may experience a more eventful demise as a nova. Nova is Latin for "new" - novae were once thought to be new stars. Today, we understand that they are in fact, very old stars - white dwarfs. If a white dwarf is close enough to a companion star, its gravity may drag matter - mostly hydrogen - from the outer layers of that star onto itself, building up its surface layer.

When enough hydrogen has accumulated on the surface, a burst of nuclear fusion occurs, causing the white dwarf to brighten substantially and expel the remaining material.

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Within a few days, the glow subsides and the cycle starts again. Sometimes, particularly massive white dwarfs those near the 1.


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  • Supernovae Leave Behind Neutron Stars or Black Holes Main sequence stars over eight solar masses are destined to die in a titanic explosion called a supernova. A supernova is not merely a bigger nova. In a nova, only the star's surface explodes. In a supernova, the star's core collapses and then explodes.

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