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

A star is an astronomical object comprising 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, 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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Polaris system
Polaris system
Photo credit: NASA/ESA/HST

Polaris (α UMi / α Ursae Minoris / Alpha Ursae Minoris, commonly North(ern) Star or Pole Star, or Dhruva Tara and sometimes Lodestar) is the brightest star in the constellation Ursa Minor. It is very close to the north celestial pole (42′ away as of 2006, making it the current northern pole star.

Polaris is about 430 light-years from Earth and is a multiple star. α UMi A is a six solar massWieland page 3: masses of A and P ... (6.0+1.54M⊙) F7 bright giant (II) or supergiant (Ib). The two smaller companions are: α UMi B, a 1.5 solar mass F3V main sequence star orbiting at a distance of 2400 AU, and α UMi Ab, a very close dwarf with an 18.5 AU radius orbit. There are also two distant components α UMi C and α UMi D. Recent observations show that Polaris may be part of a loose open cluster of type A and F stars.

Polaris B can be seen even with a modest telescope and was first noticed by William Herschel in 1780. In 1929, it was discovered by examining the spectrum of Polaris A that it had another very close dwarf companion (variously α UMi P, α UMi a or α UMi Ab), which had been theorized in earlier observations (Moore, J.H and Kholodovsky, E. A.). In January 2006, NASA released images from the Hubble telescope, directly showing all three members of the Polaris ternary system. The nearer dwarf star is in an orbit of only 18.5 AU (2.8 billion km; about the distance from our Sun to Uranus) from Polaris A, explaining why its light is swamped by its close and much brighter companion.

Polaris is a classic Population I Cepheid variable (although, it was once thought to be Population II due to its high galactic latitude).

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Crab Pulsar
Crab Pulsar
Photo credit: NASA/ESA

The Crab Pulsar (PSR B0531+21) is a relatively young neutron star. The star is the central star in the Crab Nebula, a remnant of the supernova SN 1054, which was widely observed on Earth in the year 1054. Discovered in 1968, the pulsar was the first to be connected with a supernova remnant.

The optical pulsar is roughly 25 km in diameter and the pulsar "beams" rotate once every 33 milliseconds, or 30 times each second. The outflowing relativistic wind from the neutron star generates synchrotron emission, which produces the bulk of the emission from the nebula, seen from radio waves through to gamma rays. The most dynamic feature in the inner part of the nebula is the point where the pulsar's equatorial wind slams into the surrounding nebula, forming a termination shock. The shape and position of this feature shifts rapidly, with the equatorial wind appearing as a series of wisp-like features that steepen, brighten, then fade as they move away from the pulsar into the main body of the nebula. The period of the pulsar's rotation is slowing by 38 nanoseconds per day due to the large amounts of energy carried away in the pulsar wind.

The Crab Nebula is often used as a calibration source in X-ray astronomy. It is very bright in X-rays and the flux density and spectrum are known to be constant, with the exception of the pulsar itself. The pulsar provides a strong periodic signal that is used to check the timing of the X-ray detectors. In X-ray astronomy, 'crab' and 'millicrab' are sometimes used as units of flux density. A millicrab corresponds to a flux density of about 2.4x10−11 erg s−1 cm−2 (2.4x10−14 W m−2) in the 2–10 keV X-ray band, for a "crab-like" X-ray spectrum, which is roughly a powerlaw in photon energy, I(E)=9.5 E−1.1. Very few X-ray sources ever exceed one crab in brightness.

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A historical depiction of Andromeda constellation
A historical depiction of Andromeda constellation
Photo credit: Urania's Mirror (Sidney Hall/Adam Cuerden)

Andromeda as depicted in Urania's Mirror, set of constellation cards published in London c.1825.

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An early Baroque artist's rendition of Claudius Ptolemaeus
An early Baroque artist's rendition of Claudius Ptolemaeus
Photo credit: Unknown artist, uploaded by User:Salvatore Ingala

Claudius Ptolemaeus (Greek: Κλαύδιος Πτολεμαῖος Klaúdios Ptolemaîos; c. AD 90 – c. 168), known in English as Ptolemy /ˈtɒləmɪ/, was a Roman citizen of Egypt who wrote in Greek. He was a mathematician, astronomer, geographer, astrologer and a poet of a single epigram in the Greek Anthology. He lived in Egypt under Roman rule, and is believed to have been born in the town of Ptolemais Hermiou in the Thebaid. He died in Alexandria around AD 168.

Ptolemy was the author of several scientific treatises, at least three of which were of continuing importance to later Islamic and European science. The first is the astronomical treatise now known as the Almagest (in Greek, Ἡ Μεγάλη Σύνταξις, "The Great Treatise", originally Μαθηματικὴ Σύνταξις, "Mathematical Treatise"). The second is the Geography, which is a thorough discussion of the geographic knowledge of the Greco-Roman world. The third is the astrological treatise known sometimes in Greek as the Apotelesmatika (Ἀποτελεσματικά), more commonly in Greek as the Tetrabiblos (Τετράβιβλος, "Four Books"), and in Latin as the Quadripartitum (or "Four Books") in which he attempted to adapt horoscopic astrology to the Aristotelian natural philosophy of his day.

In Almagest, considered to be one of the most influential scientific texts of all time, Ptolemy presented his astronomical models in convenient tables, which could be used to compute the future or past position of the planets. The Almagest also contains a star catalogue, which is an appropriated version of a catalogue created by Hipparchus. His Planetary Hypotheses went beyond the mathematical model of the Almagest to present a physical realization of the universe as a set of nested spheres.


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