The Stars Portal

Introduction

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. Still, most are invisible to the naked eye from Earth, including all individual stars outside our galaxy, the Milky Way.

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. They 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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Canopus taken from the ISS.
Photo credit: NASA

Canopus (/kəˈnpəs/; α Car, α Carinae, Alpha Carinae) is the brightest star in the southern constellation of Carina, and the second brightest star in the night-time sky, after Sirius. Canopus's visual magnitude is −0.72, and it has an absolute magnitude of −5.65.

Canopus is a supergiant of spectral type F. Canopus is essentially white when seen with the naked eye (although F-type stars are sometimes listed as "yellowish-white"). It is located in the far southern sky, at a declination of −52° 42' (2000) and a right ascension of 06h24.0m. Its name comes from the mythological Canopus, who was a navigator for Menelaus, king of Sparta.

Canopus is the most intrinsically bright star within approximately 700 light years, and it has been the brightest star in Earth's sky during three different epochs over the past four million years. Other stars appear brighter only during relatively temporary periods, during which they are passing the Solar System at a much closer distance than Canopus. About 90,000 years ago, Sirius moved close enough that it became brighter than Canopus, and that will remain the case for another 210,000 years. But in 480,000 years, Canopus will once again be the brightest, and will remain so for a period of about 510,000 years.

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Spectrum images of some stars by Harvard spectral class
Photo credit: NASA

In astronomy, stellar classification is a classification of stars based on their spectral characteristics. The spectral class of a star is a designated class of a star describing the ionization of its chromosphere, what atomic excitations are most prominent in the light, giving an objective measure of the temperature in this chromosphere. Light from the star is analyzed by splitting it up by a diffraction grating, subdividing the incoming photons into a spectrum exhibiting a rainbow of colors interspersed by absorption lines, each line indicating a certain ion of a certain chemical element. The presence of a certain chemical element in such an absorption spectrum primarily indicates that the temperature conditions are suitable for a certain excitation of this element. If the star temperature has been determined by a majority of absorption lines, unusual absences or strengths of lines for a certain element may indicate an unusual chemical composition of the chromosphere.

Most stars are currently classified using the letters O, B, A, F, G, K, and M (usually memorized by astrophysicists as "Oh, be a fine girl/guy, kiss me"), where O stars are the hottest and the letter sequence indicates successively cooler stars up to the coolest M class. According to informal tradition, O stars are called "blue", B "blue-white", A stars "white", F stars "yellow-white", G stars "yellow", K stars "orange", and M stars "red", even though the actual star colors perceived by an observer may deviate from these colors depending on visual conditions and individual stars observed. The current non-alphabetical scheme developed from an earlier scheme using all letters from A to O; the original letters were retained but the star classes were re-ordered in the current temperature order when the connection between the stars' class and temperatures became clear. A few star classes were dropped as duplicates of others.

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IAU Indus chart

Boötes /bˈtz/ is a constellation in the northern sky, located between 0° and +60° declination, and 13 and 16 hours of right ascension on the celestial sphere. The name comes from the Greek Βοώτης, Boōtēs, meaning herdsman or plowman (literally, ox-driver; from boos, related to the Latin bovis, “cow”).

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Stephen William Hawking
Photo credit: NASA

Stephen William Hawking CH CBE FRS FRSA (8 January 1942 – 14 March 2018) was an English theoretical physicist, cosmologist, and author who, at the time of his death, was director of research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology at the University of Cambridge. Between 1979 and 2009, he was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge.

Hawking was born in Oxford, into a family of physicians. In October 1959, at the age of 17, he began his university education at University College, Oxford, where he received a first-class BA degree in physics. In October 1962, he began his graduate work at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where in March 1966, he obtained his PhD degree in applied mathematics and theoretical physics, specialising in general relativity and cosmology. In 1963, Hawking was diagnosed with an early-onset slow-progressing form of motor neurone disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – ALS, for short) that gradually, over the decades, paralysed him. After the loss of his speech, he communicated through a speech-generating device initially through use of a handheld switch, and eventually by using a single cheek muscle.

Hawking's scientific works included a collaboration with Roger Penrose on gravitational singularity theorems in the framework of general relativity, and the theoretical prediction that black holes emit radiation, often called Hawking radiation. Initially, Hawking radiation was controversial. By the late 1970s and following the publication of further research, the discovery was widely accepted as a major breakthrough in theoretical physics. Hawking was the first to set out a theory of cosmology explained by a union of the general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics. He was a vigorous supporter of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.

Hawking achieved commercial success with several works of popular science in which he discussed his theories and cosmology in general. His book A Brief History of Time appeared on the Sunday Times bestseller list for a record-breaking 237 weeks. Hawking was a Fellow of the Royal Society, a lifetime member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States. In 2002, Hawking was ranked number 25 in the BBC's poll of the 100 Greatest Britons. He died on 14 March 2018 at the age of 76, after living with motor neurone disease for more than 50 years. (Full article...)

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