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The Stars Portal


A star is an astronomical object consisting of a luminous spheroid of plasma held together by its own gravity. The nearest star to Earth is the Sun. Many other stars are visible to the naked eye from Earth during the night, appearing as a multitude of fixed luminous points in the sky due to their immense distance from Earth. Historically, the most prominent stars were grouped into constellations and asterisms, the brightest of which gained proper names. Astronomers have assembled star catalogues that identify the known stars and provide standardized stellar designations. The observable Universe contains an estimated stars, but most are invisible to the naked eye from Earth, including all stars outside our galaxy, the Milky Way.

For most of its active life, a star shines due to thermonuclear fusion of hydrogen into helium in its core, releasing energy that traverses the star's interior and then radiates into outer space. Almost all naturally occurring elements heavier than helium are created by stellar nucleosynthesis during the star's lifetime, and for some stars by supernova nucleosynthesis when it explodes. Near the end of its life, a star can also contain degenerate matter. Astronomers can determine the mass, age, metallicity (chemical composition), and many other properties of a star by observing its motion through space, its luminosity, and spectrum respectively. The total mass of a star is the main factor that determines its evolution and eventual fate. Other characteristics of a star, including diameter and temperature, change over its life, while the star's environment affects its rotation and movement. A plot of the temperature of many stars against their luminosities produces a plot known as a Hertzsprung-Russell diagram (H-R diagram). Plotting a particular star on that diagram allows the age and evolutionary state of that star to be determined.

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. When the stellar core is sufficiently dense, hydrogen becomes steadily converted into helium through nuclear fusion, releasing energy in the process. The remainder of the star's interior carries energy away from the core through a combination of radiative and convective heat transfer processes. The star's internal pressure prevents it from collapsing further under its own gravity. A star with mass greater than 0.4 times the Sun's will expand to become a red giant when the hydrogen fuel in its core is exhausted. In some cases, it will fuse heavier elements at the core or in shells around the core. As the star expands it throws a part of its mass, enriched with those heavier elements, into the interstellar environment, to be recycled later as new stars. Meanwhile, the core becomes a stellar remnant: a white dwarf, a neutron star, or, if it is sufficiently massive, a black hole.

Binary and multi-star systems consist of two or more stars that are gravitationally bound and generally move around each other in stable orbits. When two such stars have a relatively close orbit, their gravitational interaction can have a significant impact on their evolution. Stars can form part of a much larger gravitationally bound structure, such as a star cluster or a galaxy.

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Canopus taken from the ISS.
Photo credit: NASA

Canopus (; ? Car, ? 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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Schematic view of a pulsar
Photo credit: User:Mysid and User:Jm smits

Pulsars are highly magnetized, rotating neutron stars that emit a beam of electromagnetic radiation. The observed periods of their pulses range from 1.4 milliseconds to 8.5 seconds. The radiation can only be observed when the beam of emission is pointing towards the Earth. This is called the lighthouse effect and gives rise to the pulsed nature that gives pulsars their name. Because neutron stars are very dense objects, the rotation period and thus the interval between observed pulses is very regular. For some pulsars, the regularity of pulsation is as precise as an atomic clock. A few pulsars are known to have planets orbiting them, such as PSR B1257+12. Werner Becker of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics said in 2006, "The theory of how pulsars emit their radiation is still in its infancy, even after nearly forty years of work.

The events leading to the formation of a pulsar begin when the core of a massive star is compressed during a supernova, which collapses into a neutron star. The neutron star retains most of its angular momentum, and since it has only a tiny fraction of its progenitor's radius (and therefore its moment of inertia is sharply reduced), it is formed with very high rotation speed. A beam of radiation is emitted along the magnetic axis of the pulsar, which spins along with the rotation of the neutron star. The magnetic axis of the pulsar determines the direction of the electromagnetic beam, with the magnetic axis not necessarily being the same as its rotational axis. This misalignment causes the beam to be seen once for every rotation of the neutron star, which leads to the "pulsed" nature of its appearance. The beam originates from the rotational energy of the neutron star, which generates an electrical field from the movement of the very strong magnetic field, resulting in the acceleration of protons and electrons on the star surface and the creation of an electromagnetic beam emanating from the poles of the magnetic field. This rotation slows down over time as electromagnetic power is emitted. When a pulsar's spin period slows down sufficiently, the radio pulsar mechanism is believed to turn off (the so-called "death line"). As this seems to take place after ~10-100 million years, but neutron stars have been formed throughout the ~13.6 billion year age of the universe, more than 99% of neutron stars are thought to no longer be pulsars. To date, the slowest observed pulsar has a period of 8 seconds.


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Johannes Kepler's portrait in 1610
Photo credit: Unknown artist, uploaded by User:ArtMechanic

Johannes Kepler (; German: [jo'han?s 'k?pl?, -n?s -] ; 27 December 1571 - 15 November 1630) was a German astronomer, mathematician, and astrologer. He is a key figure in the 17th-century scientific revolution, best known for his laws of planetary motion, and his books Astronomia nova, Harmonices Mundi, and Epitome Astronomiae Copernicanae. These works also provided one of the foundations for Newton's theory of universal gravitation.

Kepler was a mathematics teacher at a seminary school in Graz, where he became an associate of Prince Hans Ulrich von Eggenberg. Later he became an assistant to the astronomer Tycho Brahe in Prague, and eventually the imperial mathematician to Emperor Rudolf II and his two successors Matthias and Ferdinand II. He also taught mathematics in Linz, and was an adviser to General Wallenstein. Additionally, he did fundamental work in the field of optics, invented an improved version of the refracting (or Keplerian) telescope, and was mentioned in the telescopic discoveries of his contemporary Galileo Galilei. He was a corresponding member of the Accademia dei Lincei in Rome.

Kepler lived in an era when there was no clear distinction between astronomy and astrology, but there was a strong division between astronomy (a branch of mathematics within the liberal arts) and physics (a branch of natural philosophy). Kepler also incorporated religious arguments and reasoning into his work, motivated by the religious conviction and belief that God had created the world according to an intelligible plan that is accessible through the natural light of reason. Kepler described his new astronomy as "celestial physics", as "an excursion into Aristotle's Metaphysics", and as "a supplement to Aristotle's On the Heavens", transforming the ancient tradition of physical cosmology by treating astronomy as part of a universal mathematical physics. Read more...

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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?

  • ... Sirius's name probably comes from a Greek word meaning "sparkling", or "scorching"?
  • ... the Great Red Spot -- a storm on Jupiter that has been going on for 300 years -- is so big that dozens of Earths would fit into it?


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