Evolution/ Death of High-Mass Stars

Convection in the core of high-mass Main Sequence star “mixes” material. As hydrogen burns, helium builds uniformly throughout the core.

Evolution of High-Mass Star

>8 Solar Masses (M☉) Evolution

Note: H = hydrogen, He = helium, C = carbon, O = oxygen, Mg = magnesium, Ne = neon, S = sulfur, Si = silicon, Na = sodium, Fe = iron,

Step 1: H –> He (core) via CNO Cycle

Step 2: He –> C (core); H –> He (shell)

*Star is now a super-giant

Step 3: C –> O, Ne, Mg (core); He –> C (shell); H–> He (shell)

Step 4: S, Si –> Fe (core); O –> S, Si (shell); Ne –> O, Mg (shell); C –> Na, Ne, Mg (shell); He –> C (shell); H –> He (shell)

  • As high-mass stars enter evolution, they swell to enormous sizes as shells form around the cores
  • High-mass stars move horizontally back and forth across H-R diagram after leaving the Main Sequence
  • As stars pass the “instability strip,” they become pulsating variable stars (change in luminosities)
  • The heavier the element that the star starts producing in its core, the higher the temperature of the core, and the shorter the burning stage of the element
  • Fusing less massive elements (less massive than Fe) releases energy, while fusing heavier elements (heavier than Fe) doesn’t release energy; instead, heavier elements require energy for fusion— heavier elements do not “burn”
  • Fe is the most stable element and the most tightly bound (strong attraction between nucleus and electrons)

Core Collapse

  • The final  stage of nuclear burning in the core of a massive star: sulfur and silicon –> iron and nickel
  • Once the core produces iron, no more energy can be extracted via nuclear fusion reactions
  • Even electron degeneracy pressure (electrical repulsion of atoms) can’t prevent the core from collapsing to a much smaller, denser state
  • With no further source of energy, gravity begins to compress the core to smaller sizes
  • When the temperature reaches 10 billion K, the core implodes at 1/4 the speed of light
  • Black-body radiation is so intense in the core that iron nuclei are broken apart
  • Electrons combine with protons to form neutrons and neutrinos (e + p –> n +ν)
  • Neutrinos carry energy out of core
  • Core collapses to a radius of about 10 km
  • Outer layers of star are blown off explosively, leading up to a Type II Supernova
  • 99% of energy in Type II Supernova comes sin the form of neutrinos (e.g. supernova 2011 dh in galaxy M51 – Whirlpool Galaxy)


Milky Way Galaxy Supernovae

  • Usually 1-2 supernovae per century
  • In 1572 and 1604: supernova observed
  • The supernovae may have been hidden by dust clouds
    • Crab Nebula: remnant of a Type II Supernova in 1054 A.D.
    • Vela supernova remnant
    • Cygnus Loop
    • SN1987A: Type I supernova in the Large Magellanic Cloud
      • Blue Supergiant at 20 M☉
      • 19 neutrinos detected at the Irvine-Michigan-Brookhaven neutrino detector (underground mine in Ohio) three hours before light from the supernova was seen

Neutron Star

Neutron Stars

  • Remnant of cores of massive stars, left over after the core collapses in the supernova explosion
  • 1.5x more massive than the Sun, only 10 km in radius
  • 1 cm³ = 1 billion tons
  • How to Detect Them
    • Pulsars: spinning neutron stars that emit radio waves
    • X-Ray Binaries: in a binary star system, accretes matter from the other star

Evolution/ Death of Low-Mass Stars

Evolution of Low-Mass Stars

  • For stars on the main sequence, luminosity is proportional to the star’s mass to the 3.5th power (L α M3.5)
  • For the Sun: original composition about 30% helium in mass –> today – 65% helium –> 5 billion years later: 100% helium
  • The total amount of hydrogen “fuel” in a star is proportional to the star’s mass; the rate of fuel use is proportional to luminosity; lifetime α mass α 1/L
  • The Sun’s main sequence lifetime is 10¹º years; its entire lifetime is 10¹º + 1/M2.5 years, where M = the star’s mass in solar masses

How Lifetime, Luminosity, and Mass Compare Among Various Spectral Types

Spectral Type  Mass (M☉)   Luminosity (L☉)  Lifetime (years)

  • O5                        60                          800,000                        3 million
  • A5                         3                                55                              4 million
  • G2                        1                                  1                             10 billion
  • M0                      0.5                           0.08                             70 billion
  • M5                      0.2                           0.01                           190 billion

Stars with masses below 0.8 M☉ have never left the main sequence and have lifetimes longer than the current age of the Universe.

Post- Main Sequence

  • Core can’t maintain its balance between gravity and pressure; gravity compresses the star to a much smaller size
  • Electron Degeneracy Pressure: halts collapse of the star
  • Core’s radius swells to several thousand km, or about the size of Earth
  • Hydrogen converts to helium at  a very rapid rate; luminosity more than 1000 times greater than before; star swells to enormous size

Red Giant

Red Giants: 50x Sun’s radius, 1000x Sun’s luminosity

  • H –> He in a shell
  • Helium core swells to the size of Earth; no fusion anymore
  • Non-burning hydrogen atmosphere
  • Helium fusion needs higher velocities and energy to overcome repulsion
  • At 100 million K, helium atoms yield carbon atoms, also known as “helium flash”
  • Triple-Alpha Process“: 4He + 4He –> 8Be; 4He + 8Be –> ¹²C
  • In half an hour, half the helium yields carbon in the core
  • Horizontal Branch Star: after the core expands and the star enters a steady phase (50-100 million years) of helium burning and becomes less luminous

    Evolution of Low-Mass Stars: H-R Diagram

  • Core contracts again, He –> C in a shell around the core; hydrogen burning shell around that layer
  • Asymptotic Giant Brand“: star moves upward toward the H-R Diagram “Red Giant” area, exceeds 10,000 L☉

*Blue-Stragglers: stars in a dense environment; when two stars collide, the core could be “rejuvenated,” giving the star extra lifetime

Planetary Nebula

Planetary Nebulae

  • The outer layers, about 20% of the star’s mass, are ejected in a strong wind
  • Gas is ionized by UV protons from hot, exposed stellar core
  • Star shines for 50,000 years before gases disperse and fade
  • About 1,000 in the Milky Way Galaxy
  • Have many shapes and sizes because of binary star systems’ different orbits, temperature, rotation, luminosity, mass

Binary System: Sirius A (brighter, Main Sequence) & Sirius B (dimmer, white dwarf)

White Dwarfs:  (0.6 – 0.7 M☉) bare core of a star often all fusion reactions ended, supported against gravity by electron degeneracy pressure; density at 1 million grams/cm³

  • e.g. Sirius A: Main Sequence, A1, -1.5; Sirius B: white dwarf, 8.5

End States: Initial Mass and White Dwarf Composition

  • >0.45 M☉: helium
  • 0.45-4 M☉: carbon, oxygen –> (Sun)
  • 4-8 M☉: oxygen, neon, magnesium