Stellar Properties

Stars: Stellar Properties

Stars are balls of gas held together by force of gravity and generate energy and light by nuclear fusion.

A star’s “color,” or wavelength gives information on:

  1. Temperature
  2. Composition
  3. Conditions
  4. Motion (Doppler Shift)
  5. Classification Scheme

What to Measure and How to Classify Stars:

  1. Spectroscopy
    • To determine composition
      • Absorption line produced when an electron absorbs a photon; emission line produced when an electron emits a photon
      • Dual nature of light: light behaves as waves (electromagnetic waves) or as particles (photons)
      • High energy electromagnetic waves are high energy photons, low energy electromagnetic waves are low energy photons
      • Energy of a photon defined by: E = hf, where h is Planck’s constant (h = 6.63 x 10 ^ – 34 joules sec) and f is the frequency of the electromagnetic wave
      • Three Types of Spectra:
        • Continuous Spectrum: appears as a rainbow spectrum
        • Emission Spectrum: appears as distinct color lines, characteristic of chemical elements
        • Absorption Spectrum: appears as black lines on a rainbow background, reverse of emission spectrum
    • To determine temperature
      • All objects give off thermal radiation
      • Peak wavelength corresponds to maximum intensity of radiation
      • Peak wavelength of electromagnetic radiation is related to temperature
      • Wien’s Law: W = 0.00290/T
      • As temperature increases, wavelength decreases
      • The hotter an object, the bluer the radiation
    • To determine density
      • The thicker the spectral line, the greater the abundance of the chemical element present
    • To determine motion
      • Doppler shift of spectral lines
      • Red Shift = moving away
      • Blue Shift = moving closer
    • To determine distance
      • Measured in light years (ly) – distance light travels in one year and parsecs (pc) – one parsec is 3.26 light years
      • Parallax: the only direct measure of stellar distance, the angle across the sky that a star seems to move with respect to a background of distant stars) between two observation points at the ends of a baseline of one astronomical unit (A.U.); a star one parsec from Earth has a parallax of one arc second
  2. Brightness
    • Apparent Brightness
      • Affected By: absolute (true) brightness, distance, intervening space, Earth’s atmosphere, and eyes’ visual response
      • Measured by apparent magnitude “m,” relative brightness as seen on Earth; brightest star (m=1) to faintest (m=6); a 1st magnitude star is 100 times brighter than a 6th magnitude star
    • Absolute Brightness
      • Measured by absolute magnitude “M”
      • The magnitude of a star observed from a distance of 10 parsecs (1 parsec = 3.26 light years)
      • Stars further than 10 parsecs would “appear” brighter; M increases
      • Stars closer than 10 parsecs would “appear” dimmer; M decreases
    • m-M = 5 log (r/10)
  3. Distances
    • Distance as the primary factor in the decrease of stellar brightness as perceived on Earth, used to determine absolute brightness
    • Inverse Square Law: the intensity of light varies inversely with the square of the star’s distance from the Earth
  4. Mass and Size
    • MASS: For binary stars, both the period of revolution of one star orbiting the other and the distance between the two stars can be measured
    • SIZE: Diameters of stars can be determined from temperature and luminosity (calculated from absolute brightness) =>  L  =   σ  T^4  A, where L = luminosity, σ = distance, T = temperature, and A = absolute brightness
  5. Classification Scheme
    • Spectral Types: O, B, A, F, G, K, M; subtypes 0 to 9 (e.g. B1, A4, G2, and M0)
    • O stars are more than 10 times hotter than M stars
    • Developed by Annie Jump Cannon in the late 1800’s
  6. H-R Diagram: to study evolutionary tracks
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5 thoughts on “Stellar Properties

  1. Can never quite decide which I like more – The written word and the knowledge acquired or the awesomely beautiful photos or the clear and concise illustrations (of your posts of course) anyway reading and viewing the whole thing is always a pleasure for me. Pure pleasure.

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