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Astronomy

21.2 The H–R Diagram and the Study of Stellar Evolution

Astronomy21.2 The H–R Diagram and the Study of Stellar Evolution
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  1. Preface
  2. 1 Science and the Universe: A Brief Tour
    1. Introduction
    2. 1.1 The Nature of Astronomy
    3. 1.2 The Nature of Science
    4. 1.3 The Laws of Nature
    5. 1.4 Numbers in Astronomy
    6. 1.5 Consequences of Light Travel Time
    7. 1.6 A Tour of the Universe
    8. 1.7 The Universe on the Large Scale
    9. 1.8 The Universe of the Very Small
    10. 1.9 A Conclusion and a Beginning
    11. For Further Exploration
  3. 2 Observing the Sky: The Birth of Astronomy
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 2.1 The Sky Above
    3. 2.2 Ancient Astronomy
    4. 2.3 Astrology and Astronomy
    5. 2.4 The Birth of Modern Astronomy
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  4. 3 Orbits and Gravity
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 3.1 The Laws of Planetary Motion
    3. 3.2 Newton’s Great Synthesis
    4. 3.3 Newton’s Universal Law of Gravitation
    5. 3.4 Orbits in the Solar System
    6. 3.5 Motions of Satellites and Spacecraft
    7. 3.6 Gravity with More Than Two Bodies
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. For Further Exploration
    11. Collaborative Group Activities
    12. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  5. 4 Earth, Moon, and Sky
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 4.1 Earth and Sky
    3. 4.2 The Seasons
    4. 4.3 Keeping Time
    5. 4.4 The Calendar
    6. 4.5 Phases and Motions of the Moon
    7. 4.6 Ocean Tides and the Moon
    8. 4.7 Eclipses of the Sun and Moon
    9. Key Terms
    10. Summary
    11. For Further Exploration
    12. Collaborative Group Activities
    13. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  6. 5 Radiation and Spectra
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 5.1 The Behavior of Light
    3. 5.2 The Electromagnetic Spectrum
    4. 5.3 Spectroscopy in Astronomy
    5. 5.4 The Structure of the Atom
    6. 5.5 Formation of Spectral Lines
    7. 5.6 The Doppler Effect
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. For Further Exploration
    11. Collaborative Group Activities
    12. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  7. 6 Astronomical Instruments
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 6.1 Telescopes
    3. 6.2 Telescopes Today
    4. 6.3 Visible-Light Detectors and Instruments
    5. 6.4 Radio Telescopes
    6. 6.5 Observations outside Earth’s Atmosphere
    7. 6.6 The Future of Large Telescopes
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. For Further Exploration
    11. Collaborative Group Activities
    12. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  8. 7 Other Worlds: An Introduction to the Solar System
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 7.1 Overview of Our Planetary System
    3. 7.2 Composition and Structure of Planets
    4. 7.3 Dating Planetary Surfaces
    5. 7.4 Origin of the Solar System
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  9. 8 Earth as a Planet
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 8.1 The Global Perspective
    3. 8.2 Earth’s Crust
    4. 8.3 Earth’s Atmosphere
    5. 8.4 Life, Chemical Evolution, and Climate Change
    6. 8.5 Cosmic Influences on the Evolution of Earth
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. For Further Exploration
    10. Collaborative Group Activities
    11. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  10. 9 Cratered Worlds
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 9.1 General Properties of the Moon
    3. 9.2 The Lunar Surface
    4. 9.3 Impact Craters
    5. 9.4 The Origin of the Moon
    6. 9.5 Mercury
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. For Further Exploration
    10. Collaborative Group Activities
    11. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  11. 10 Earthlike Planets: Venus and Mars
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 10.1 The Nearest Planets: An Overview
    3. 10.2 The Geology of Venus
    4. 10.3 The Massive Atmosphere of Venus
    5. 10.4 The Geology of Mars
    6. 10.5 Water and Life on Mars
    7. 10.6 Divergent Planetary Evolution
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. For Further Exploration
    11. Collaborative Group Activities
    12. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  12. 11 The Giant Planets
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 11.1 Exploring the Outer Planets
    3. 11.2 The Giant Planets
    4. 11.3 Atmospheres of the Giant Planets
    5. Key Terms
    6. Summary
    7. For Further Exploration
    8. Collaborative Group Activities
    9. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  13. 12 Rings, Moons, and Pluto
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 12.1 Ring and Moon Systems Introduced
    3. 12.2 The Galilean Moons of Jupiter
    4. 12.3 Titan and Triton
    5. 12.4 Pluto and Charon
    6. 12.5 Planetary Rings
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. For Further Exploration
    10. Collaborative Group Activities
    11. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  14. 13 Comets and Asteroids: Debris of the Solar System
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 13.1 Asteroids
    3. 13.2 Asteroids and Planetary Defense
    4. 13.3 The “Long-Haired” Comets
    5. 13.4 The Origin and Fate of Comets and Related Objects
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  15. 14 Cosmic Samples and the Origin of the Solar System
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 14.1 Meteors
    3. 14.2 Meteorites: Stones from Heaven
    4. 14.3 Formation of the Solar System
    5. 14.4 Comparison with Other Planetary Systems
    6. 14.5 Planetary Evolution
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. For Further Exploration
    10. Collaborative Group Activities
    11. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  16. 15 The Sun: A Garden-Variety Star
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 15.1 The Structure and Composition of the Sun
    3. 15.2 The Solar Cycle
    4. 15.3 Solar Activity above the Photosphere
    5. 15.4 Space Weather
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  17. 16 The Sun: A Nuclear Powerhouse
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 16.1 Sources of Sunshine: Thermal and Gravitational Energy
    3. 16.2 Mass, Energy, and the Theory of Relativity
    4. 16.3 The Solar Interior: Theory
    5. 16.4 The Solar Interior: Observations
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  18. 17 Analyzing Starlight
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 17.1 The Brightness of Stars
    3. 17.2 Colors of Stars
    4. 17.3 The Spectra of Stars (and Brown Dwarfs)
    5. 17.4 Using Spectra to Measure Stellar Radius, Composition, and Motion
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  19. 18 The Stars: A Celestial Census
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 18.1 A Stellar Census
    3. 18.2 Measuring Stellar Masses
    4. 18.3 Diameters of Stars
    5. 18.4 The H–R Diagram
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  20. 19 Celestial Distances
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 19.1 Fundamental Units of Distance
    3. 19.2 Surveying the Stars
    4. 19.3 Variable Stars: One Key to Cosmic Distances
    5. 19.4 The H–R Diagram and Cosmic Distances
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  21. 20 Between the Stars: Gas and Dust in Space
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 20.1 The Interstellar Medium
    3. 20.2 Interstellar Gas
    4. 20.3 Cosmic Dust
    5. 20.4 Cosmic Rays
    6. 20.5 The Life Cycle of Cosmic Material
    7. 20.6 Interstellar Matter around the Sun
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. For Further Exploration
    11. Collaborative Group Activities
    12. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  22. 21 The Birth of Stars and the Discovery of Planets outside the Solar System
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 21.1 Star Formation
    3. 21.2 The H–R Diagram and the Study of Stellar Evolution
    4. 21.3 Evidence That Planets Form around Other Stars
    5. 21.4 Planets beyond the Solar System: Search and Discovery
    6. 21.5 Exoplanets Everywhere: What We Are Learning
    7. 21.6 New Perspectives on Planet Formation
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. For Further Exploration
    11. Collaborative Group Activities
    12. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  23. 22 Stars from Adolescence to Old Age
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 22.1 Evolution from the Main Sequence to Red Giants
    3. 22.2 Star Clusters
    4. 22.3 Checking Out the Theory
    5. 22.4 Further Evolution of Stars
    6. 22.5 The Evolution of More Massive Stars
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. For Further Exploration
    10. Collaborative Group Activities
    11. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  24. 23 The Death of Stars
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 23.1 The Death of Low-Mass Stars
    3. 23.2 Evolution of Massive Stars: An Explosive Finish
    4. 23.3 Supernova Observations
    5. 23.4 Pulsars and the Discovery of Neutron Stars
    6. 23.5 The Evolution of Binary Star Systems
    7. 23.6 The Mystery of the Gamma-Ray Bursts
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. For Further Exploration
    11. Collaborative Group Activities
    12. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  25. 24 Black Holes and Curved Spacetime
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 24.1 Introducing General Relativity
    3. 24.2 Spacetime and Gravity
    4. 24.3 Tests of General Relativity
    5. 24.4 Time in General Relativity
    6. 24.5 Black Holes
    7. 24.6 Evidence for Black Holes
    8. 24.7 Gravitational Wave Astronomy
    9. Key Terms
    10. Summary
    11. For Further Exploration
    12. Collaborative Group Activities
    13. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  26. 25 The Milky Way Galaxy
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 25.1 The Architecture of the Galaxy
    3. 25.2 Spiral Structure
    4. 25.3 The Mass of the Galaxy
    5. 25.4 The Center of the Galaxy
    6. 25.5 Stellar Populations in the Galaxy
    7. 25.6 The Formation of the Galaxy
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. For Further Exploration
    11. Collaborative Group Activities
    12. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  27. 26 Galaxies
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 26.1 The Discovery of Galaxies
    3. 26.2 Types of Galaxies
    4. 26.3 Properties of Galaxies
    5. 26.4 The Extragalactic Distance Scale
    6. 26.5 The Expanding Universe
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. For Further Exploration
    10. Collaborative Group Activities
    11. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  28. 27 Active Galaxies, Quasars, and Supermassive Black Holes
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 27.1 Quasars
    3. 27.2 Supermassive Black Holes: What Quasars Really Are
    4. 27.3 Quasars as Probes of Evolution in the Universe
    5. Key Terms
    6. Summary
    7. For Further Exploration
    8. Collaborative Group Activities
    9. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  29. 28 The Evolution and Distribution of Galaxies
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 28.1 Observations of Distant Galaxies
    3. 28.2 Galaxy Mergers and Active Galactic Nuclei
    4. 28.3 The Distribution of Galaxies in Space
    5. 28.4 The Challenge of Dark Matter
    6. 28.5 The Formation and Evolution of Galaxies and Structure in the Universe
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. For Further Exploration
    10. Collaborative Group Activities
    11. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  30. 29 The Big Bang
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 29.1 The Age of the Universe
    3. 29.2 A Model of the Universe
    4. 29.3 The Beginning of the Universe
    5. 29.4 The Cosmic Microwave Background
    6. 29.5 What Is the Universe Really Made Of?
    7. 29.6 The Inflationary Universe
    8. 29.7 The Anthropic Principle
    9. Key Terms
    10. Summary
    11. For Further Exploration
    12. Collaborative Group Activities
    13. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  31. 30 Life in the Universe
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 30.1 The Cosmic Context for Life
    3. 30.2 Astrobiology
    4. 30.3 Searching for Life beyond Earth
    5. 30.4 The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  32. A | How to Study for an Introductory Astronomy Class
  33. B | Astronomy Websites, Images, and Apps
  34. C | Scientific Notation
  35. D | Units Used in Science
  36. E | Some Useful Constants for Astronomy
  37. F | Physical and Orbital Data for the Planets
  38. G | Selected Moons of the Planets
  39. H | Future Total Eclipses
  40. I | The Nearest Stars, Brown Dwarfs, and White Dwarfs
  41. J | The Brightest Twenty Stars
  42. K | The Chemical Elements
  43. L | The Constellations
  44. M | Star Chart and Sky Event Resources
  45. Index

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Determine the age of a protostar using an H–R diagram and the protostar’s luminosity and temperature
  • Explain the interplay between gravity and pressure, and how the contracting protostar changes its position in the H–R diagram as a result

One of the best ways to summarize all of these details about how a star or protostar changes with time is to use a Hertzsprung-Russell (H–R) diagram. Recall from The Stars: A Celestial Census that, when looking at an H–R diagram, the temperature (the horizontal axis) is plotted increasing toward the left. As a star goes through the stages of its life, its luminosity and temperature change. Thus, its position on the H–R diagram, in which luminosity is plotted against temperature, also changes. As a star ages, we must replot it in different places on the diagram. Therefore, astronomers often speak of a star moving on the H–R diagram, or of its evolution tracing out a path on the diagram. In this context, “tracing out a path” has nothing to do with the star’s motion through space; this is just a shorthand way of saying that its temperature and luminosity change as it evolves.

To estimate just how much the luminosity and temperature of a star change as it ages, we must resort to calculations. Theorists compute a series of models for a star, with each successive model representing a later point in time. Stars may change for a variety of reasons. Protostars, for example, change in size because they are contracting, and their temperature and luminosity change as they do so. After nuclear fusion begins in the star’s core (see Stars from Adolescence to Old Age), main-sequence stars change because they are using up their nuclear fuel.

Given a model that represents a star at one stage of its evolution, we can calculate what it will be like at a slightly later time. At each step, the model predicts the luminosity and size of the star, and from these values, we can figure out its surface temperature. A series of points on an H–R diagram, calculated in this way, allows us to follow the life changes of a star and hence is called its evolutionary track.

Evolutionary Tracks

Let’s now use these ideas to follow the evolution of protostars that are on their way to becoming main-sequence stars. The evolutionary tracks of newly forming stars with a range of stellar masses are shown in Figure 21.12. These young stellar objects are not yet producing energy by nuclear reactions, but they derive energy from gravitational contraction—through the sort of process proposed for the Sun by Helmhotz and Kelvin in this last century (see the chapter on The Sun: A Nuclear Powerhouse).

An H-R Diagram of the Evolutionary Tracks for Contracting Protostars. The vertical scale is labeled “Luminosity”, in units of the luminosity of the Sun. The scale starts at 10-4 at the bottom and goes to 106 at the top. The horizontal scale is labeled “Surface Temperature (K)”, in degrees Kelvin. The scale begins at 63,000 on the left down to 1,600 on the far right. A red line running diagonally across the diagram from upper left to lower right marks the zero-age main sequence. A black dashed line is drawn slightly above the red line, above which stars may still be surrounded by infalling material. Six curves are shown to illustrate how stars of different masses change as they evolve toward the zero-age main sequence. On each curve are dots indicating the amount of time since the initial collapse that it takes for the star to reach that position on the H-R diagram. For example, after 100 years a 100 Solar mass star will have collapsed to the point that its temperature is about 4000 K, and its luminosity is nearly 106 that of the Sun. At 1000 years the temperature is now about 20,000 K and nearly the same luminosity. At 10,000 years the star has reached the zero-age main sequence with a surface temperature of nearly 50,000 K and luminosity 106 times Solar. As a further example, a star of one Solar mass takes longer to collapse. At 100,000 years its temperature is just above 4000 K and its luminosity as about 3 times Solar. At one million years the temperature has increased slightly, but the luminosity as dropped to about 1.5. When it finally settles on the zero-age main sequence, the temperature has risen to over 5000 K, and its luminosity has dropped to one.
Figure 21.12 Evolutionary Tracks for Contracting Protostars. Tracks are plotted on the H–R diagram to show how stars of different masses change during the early parts of their lives. The number next to each dark point on a track is the rough number of years it takes an embryo star to reach that stage (the numbers are the result of computer models and are therefore not well known). Note that the surface temperature (K) on the horizontal axis increases toward the left. You can see that the more mass a star has, the shorter time it takes to go through each stage. Stars above the dashed line are typically still surrounded by infalling material and are hidden by it.

Initially, a protostar remains fairly cool with a very large radius and a very low density. It is transparent to infrared radiation, and the heat generated by gravitational contraction can be radiated away freely into space. Because heat builds up slowly inside the protostar, the gas pressure remains low, and the outer layers fall almost unhindered toward the center. Thus, the protostar undergoes very rapid collapse, a stage that corresponds to the roughly vertical lines at the right of Figure 21.12. As the star shrinks, its surface area gets smaller, and so its total luminosity decreases. The rapid contraction stops only when the protostar becomes dense and opaque enough to trap the heat released by gravitational contraction.

When the star begins to retain its heat, the contraction becomes much slower, and changes inside the contracting star keep the luminosity of stars like our Sun roughly constant. The surface temperatures start to build up, and the star “moves” to the left in the H–R diagram. Stars first become visible only after the stellar wind described earlier clears away the surrounding dust and gas. This can happen during the rapid-contraction phase for low-mass stars, but high-mass stars remain shrouded in dust until they end their early phase of gravitational contraction (see the dashed line in Figure 21.12).

To help you keep track of the various stages that stars go through in their lives, it can be useful to compare the development of a star to that of a human being. (Clearly, you will not find an exact correspondence, but thinking through the stages in human terms may help you remember some of the ideas we are trying to emphasize.) Protostars might be compared to human embryos—as yet unable to sustain themselves but drawing resources from their environment as they grow. Just as the birth of a child is the moment it is called upon to produce its own energy (through eating and breathing), so astronomers say that a star is born when it is able to sustain itself through nuclear reactions (by making its own energy.)

When the star’s central temperature becomes high enough (about 12 million K) to fuse hydrogen into helium, we say that the star has reached the main sequence (a concept introduced in The Stars: A Celestial Census). It is now a full-fledged star, more or less in equilibrium, and its rate of change slows dramatically. Only the gradual depletion of hydrogen as it is transformed into helium in the core slowly changes the star’s properties.

The mass of a star determines exactly where it falls on the main sequence. As Figure 21.12 shows, massive stars on the main sequence have high temperatures and high luminosities. Low-mass stars have low temperatures and low luminosities.

Objects of extremely low mass never achieve high-enough central temperatures to ignite nuclear reactions. The lower end of the main sequence stops where stars have a mass just barely great enough to sustain nuclear reactions at a sufficient rate to stop gravitational contraction. This critical mass is calculated to be about 0.075 times the mass of the Sun. As we discussed in the chapter on Analyzing Starlight, objects below this critical mass are called either brown dwarfs or planets. At the other extreme, the upper end of the main sequence terminates at the point where the energy radiated by the newly forming massive star becomes so great that it halts the accretion of additional matter. The upper limit of stellar mass is between 100 and 200 solar masses.

Evolutionary Timescales

How long it takes a star to form depends on its mass. The numbers that label the points on each track in Figure 21.12 are the times, in years, required for the embryo stars to reach the stages we have been discussing. Stars of masses much higher than the Sun’s reach the main sequence in a few thousand to a million years. The Sun required millions of years before it was born. Tens of millions of years are required for stars of lower mass to evolve to the lower main sequence. (We will see that this turns out to be a general principle: massive stars go through all stages of evolution faster than low-mass stars do.)

We will take up the subsequent stages in the life of a star in Stars from Adolescence to Old Age, examining what happens after stars arrive in the main sequence and begin a “prolonged adolescence” and “adulthood” of fusing hydrogen to form helium. But now we want to examine the connection between the formation of stars and planets.

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