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Introduction

The Sun in white light.jpg
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 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. 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 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. 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 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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Alpha Centauri relative sizes.svg
Photo credit: User:Dbenbenn and User:Qef

Alpha Centauri (α Centauri / α Cen); (also known as Rigil Kentaurus, Rigil Kent, or Toliman) is the binary star system Alpha Centauri AB (α Cen AB), of which Alpha Centauri A (α Cen A) is the brightest star in the southern constellation of Centaurus. To the unaided eye it appears as a single star, whose total visual magnitude would identify it as the third brightest star in the night sky.

Alpha Centauri AB is 1.34  parsec or 4.37  light years away from our Sun. The two stars are the closest stars to the Sun after their companion Proxima Centauri, at 0.21 light-year away from the two, and at 4.243 light-years away from the Sun.

At −0.27v visual magnitude, Alpha Centauri appears to the naked-eye as a single star and is fainter than Sirius and Canopus. The next brightest star in the night sky is Arcturus. When considered among the individual brightest stars in the sky (excluding the Sun), Alpha Centauri A is the fourth brightest at −0.01 magnitude being only fractionally fainter than Arcturus at −0.04v magnitude. Alpha Centauri B at 1.33v magnitude is twenty-first in brightness.

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Hubble Deep Field

The Hubble Deep Field (HDF) is an image of a small region in the constellation Ursa Major, constructed from a series of observations by the Hubble Space Telescope. It covers an area 2.5 arcminutes across, two parts in a million of the whole sky, which is equivalent in angular size to a 65 mm tennis ball at a distance of 100 metres. The image was assembled from 342 separate exposures taken with the Space Telescope's Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 over ten consecutive days between December 18 and December 28, 1995.

The field is so small that only a few foreground stars in the Milky Way lie within it; thus, almost all of the 3,000 objects in the image are galaxies, some of which are among the youngest and most distant known. By revealing such large numbers of very young galaxies, the HDF has become a landmark image in the study of the early universe, with the associated scientific paper having received over 800 citations by the end of 2008.

Three years after the HDF observations were taken, a region in the south celestial hemisphere was imaged in a similar way and named the Hubble Deep Field South. The similarities between the two regions strengthened the belief that the universe is uniform over large scales and that the Earth occupies a typical region in the universe (the cosmological principle). A wider but shallower survey was also made as part of the Great Observatories Origins Deep Survey. In 2004 a deeper image, known as the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF), was constructed from a total of eleven days of observations. The HUDF image is the deepest (most sensitive) astronomical image ever made at visible wavelengths.

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Crab Nebula
Photo credit: NASA

The Crab Nebula (catalogue designations M1, NGC 1952, Taurus A) is a supernova remnant and pulsar wind nebula in the constellation of Taurus. The nebula was observed by John Bevis in 1731; it corresponds to a bright supernova recorded by Chinese and Arab astronomers in 1054. At X-ray and gamma-ray energies above 30 KeV, the Crab is generally the strongest persistent source in the sky, with measured flux extending to above 1012 eV. Located at a distance of about 6,500 light-years (2 kpc) from Earth, the nebula has a diameter of 11 ly (3.4 pc) and expands at a rate of about 1,500 kilometers per second.

At the center of the nebula lies the Crab Pulsar, a rotating neutron star, which emits pulses of radiation from gamma rays to radio waves with a spin rate of 30.2 times per second. The nebula acts as a source of radiation for studying celestial bodies that occult it.

Did you know?

  • ... Sirius's name probably comes from a Greek word meaning “sparkling”, or “scorching”?
  • ... that our galaxy is estimated to contain 200-400 billion stars, more than the number of humans that have ever lived?

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Galileo Galilei's portrait painted in 1636
Photo credit: By Justus Sustermans

Galileo Galilei (Italian pronunciation: [galiˈlɛo galiˈlɛi]; 15 February 1564 – 8 January 1642) was an Italian physicist, mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher who played a major role in the Scientific Revolution. His achievements include improvements to the telescope and consequent astronomical observations, and support for Copernicanism. Galileo has been called the "father of modern observational astronomy", the "father of modern physics", the "father of science", and "the father of modern science". Stephen Hawking says: "Galileo, perhaps more than any other single person, was responsible for the birth of modern science."

The motion of uniformly accelerated objects, taught in nearly all high school and introductory college physics courses, was studied by Galileo as the subject of kinematics. His contributions to observational astronomy include the telescopic confirmation of the phases of Venus, the discovery of the four largest satellites of Jupiter (named the Galilean moons in his honour), and the observation and analysis of sunspots. Galileo also worked in applied science and technology, inventing an improved military compass and other instruments.

Galileo's championing of Copernicanism was controversial within his lifetime, when a large majority of philosophers and astronomers still subscribed (at least outwardly) to the geocentric view that the Earth is at the centre of the universe. After 1610, when he began publicly supporting the heliocentric view, which placed the Sun at the centre of the universe, he met with bitter opposition from some philosophers and clerics, and two of the latter eventually denounced him to the Roman Inquisition early in 1615. In February 1616, although he had been cleared of any offence, the Catholic Church nevertheless condemned heliocentrism as "false and contrary to Scripture", and Galileo was warned to abandon his support for it—which he promised to do. When he later defended his views in his most famous work, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, published in 1632, he was tried by the Inquisition, found "vehemently suspect of heresy", forced to recant, and spent the rest of his life under house arrest.

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