The apparent magnitude of an astronomical object is a number, a measure of its brightness as seen by an observer on Earth. The magnitude scale is logarithmic. A difference of 1 in magnitude corresponds to a change in brightness by a factor of 5√100, or about 2.512. The brighter an object appears, the lower its magnitude value, with the brightest astronomical objects having negative apparent magnitudes: for example Sirius at −1.46. The measurement of apparent magnitudes or brightnesses of celestial objects is known as photometry. Apparent magnitudes are used to quantify the brightness of sources at ultraviolet and infrared wavelengths. An apparent magnitude is measured in a specific passband corresponding to some photometric system such as the UBV system. In standard astronomical notation, an apparent magnitude in the V filter band would be denoted either as mV or simply as V, as in "mV = 15" or "V = 15" to describe a 15th-magnitude object; the scale used to indicate magnitude originates in the Hellenistic practice of dividing stars visible to the naked eye into six magnitudes.
The brightest stars in the night sky were said to be of first magnitude, whereas the faintest were of sixth magnitude, the limit of human visual perception. Each grade of magnitude was considered twice the brightness of the following grade, although that ratio was subjective as no photodetectors existed; this rather crude scale for the brightness of stars was popularized by Ptolemy in his Almagest and is believed to have originated with Hipparchus. In 1856, Norman Robert Pogson formalized the system by defining a first magnitude star as a star, 100 times as bright as a sixth-magnitude star, thereby establishing the logarithmic scale still in use today; this implies that a star of magnitude m is about 2.512 times as bright as a star of magnitude m + 1. This figure, the fifth root of 100, became known as Pogson's Ratio; the zero point of Pogson's scale was defined by assigning Polaris a magnitude of 2. Astronomers discovered that Polaris is variable, so they switched to Vega as the standard reference star, assigning the brightness of Vega as the definition of zero magnitude at any specified wavelength.
Apart from small corrections, the brightness of Vega still serves as the definition of zero magnitude for visible and near infrared wavelengths, where its spectral energy distribution approximates that of a black body for a temperature of 11000 K. However, with the advent of infrared astronomy it was revealed that Vega's radiation includes an Infrared excess due to a circumstellar disk consisting of dust at warm temperatures. At shorter wavelengths, there is negligible emission from dust at these temperatures. However, in order to properly extend the magnitude scale further into the infrared, this peculiarity of Vega should not affect the definition of the magnitude scale. Therefore, the magnitude scale was extrapolated to all wavelengths on the basis of the black-body radiation curve for an ideal stellar surface at 11000 K uncontaminated by circumstellar radiation. On this basis the spectral irradiance for the zero magnitude point, as a function of wavelength, can be computed. Small deviations are specified between systems using measurement apparatuses developed independently so that data obtained by different astronomers can be properly compared, but of greater practical importance is the definition of magnitude not at a single wavelength but applying to the response of standard spectral filters used in photometry over various wavelength bands.
With the modern magnitude systems, brightness over a wide range is specified according to the logarithmic definition detailed below, using this zero reference. In practice such apparent magnitudes do not exceed 30; the brightness of Vega is exceeded by four stars in the night sky at visible wavelengths as well as the bright planets Venus and Jupiter, these must be described by negative magnitudes. For example, the brightest star of the celestial sphere, has an apparent magnitude of −1.4 in the visible. Negative magnitudes for other bright astronomical objects can be found in the table below. Astronomers have developed other photometric zeropoint systems as alternatives to the Vega system; the most used is the AB magnitude system, in which photometric zeropoints are based on a hypothetical reference spectrum having constant flux per unit frequency interval, rather than using a stellar spectrum or blackbody curve as the reference. The AB magnitude zeropoint is defined such that an object's AB and Vega-based magnitudes will be equal in the V filter band.
As the amount of light received by a telescope is reduced by transmission through the Earth's atmosphere, any measurement of apparent magnitude is corrected for what it would have been as seen from above the atmosphere. The dimmer an object appears, the higher the numerical value given to its apparent magnitude, with a difference of 5 magnitudes corresponding to a brightness factor of 100. Therefore, the apparent magnitude m, in the spectral band x, would be given by m x = − 5 log 100 , more expressed in terms of common logarithms as m x
Stellar parallax is the apparent shift of position of any nearby star against the background of distant objects. Created by the different orbital positions of Earth, the small observed shift is largest at time intervals of about six months, when Earth arrives at opposite sides of the Sun in its orbit, giving a baseline distance of about two astronomical units between observations; the parallax itself is considered to be half of this maximum, about equivalent to the observational shift that would occur due to the different positions of Earth and the Sun, a baseline of one astronomical unit. Stellar parallax is so difficult to detect that its existence was the subject of much debate in astronomy for hundreds of years, it was first observed in 1806 by Giuseppe Calandrelli who reported parallax in α-Lyrae in his work "Osservazione e riflessione sulla parallasse annua dall’alfa della Lira". In 1838 Friedrich Bessel made the first successful parallax measurement, for the star 61 Cygni, using a Fraunhofer heliometer at Königsberg Observatory.
Once a star's parallax is known, its distance from Earth can be computed trigonometrically. But the more distant an object is, the smaller its parallax. With 21st-century techniques in astrometry, the limits of accurate measurement make distances farther away than about 100 parsecs too approximate to be useful when obtained by this technique; this limits the applicability of parallax as a measurement of distance to objects that are close on a galactic scale. Other techniques, such as spectral red-shift, are required to measure the distance of more remote objects. Stellar parallax measures are given in the tiny units of arcseconds, or in thousandths of arcseconds; the distance unit parsec is defined as the length of the leg of a right triangle adjacent to the angle of one arcsecond at one vertex, where the other leg is 1 AU long. Because stellar parallaxes and distances all involve such skinny right triangles, a convenient trigonometric approximation can be used to convert parallaxes to distance.
The approximate distance is the reciprocal of the parallax: d ≃ 1 / p. For example, Proxima Centauri, whose parallax is 0.7687, is 1 / 0.7687 parsecs = 1.3009 parsecs distant. Stellar parallax is so small that its apparent absence was used as a scientific argument against heliocentrism during the early modern age, it is clear from Euclid's geometry that the effect would be undetectable if the stars were far enough away, but for various reasons such gigantic distances involved seemed implausible: it was one of Tycho Brahe's principal objections to Copernican heliocentrism that in order for it to be compatible with the lack of observable stellar parallax, there would have to be an enormous and unlikely void between the orbit of Saturn and the eighth sphere. James Bradley first tried to measure stellar parallaxes in 1729; the stellar movement proved too insignificant for his telescope, but he instead discovered the aberration of light and the nutation of Earth's axis, catalogued 3222 stars. Stellar parallax is most measured using annual parallax, defined as the difference in position of a star as seen from Earth and Sun, i.e. the angle subtended at a star by the mean radius of Earth's orbit around the Sun.
The parsec is defined as the distance. Annual parallax is measured by observing the position of a star at different times of the year as Earth moves through its orbit. Measurement of annual parallax was the first reliable way to determine the distances to the closest stars; the first successful measurements of stellar parallax were made by Friedrich Bessel in 1838 for the star 61 Cygni using a heliometer. Being difficult to measure, only about 60 stellar parallaxes had been obtained by the end of the 19th century by use of the filar micrometer. Astrographs using astronomical photographic plates sped the process in the early 20th century. Automated plate-measuring machines and more sophisticated computer technology of the 1960s allowed more efficient compilation of star catalogues. In the 1980s, charge-coupled devices replaced photographic plates and reduced optical uncertainties to one milliarcsecond. Stellar parallax remains the standard for calibrating other measurement methods. Accurate calculations of distance based on stellar parallax require a measurement of the distance from Earth to the Sun, now known to exquisite accuracy based on radar reflection off the surfaces of planets.
The angles involved in these calculations are small and thus difficult to measure. The nearest star to the Sun, Proxima Centauri, has a parallax of 0.7687 ± 0.0003 arcsec. This angle is that subtended by an object 2 centimeters in diameter located 5.3 kilometers away. In 1989 the satellite Hipparcos was launched for obtaining parallaxes and proper motions of nearby stars, increasing the number of stellar parallaxes measured to milliarcsecond accuracy a thousandfold. So, Hipparcos is only able to measure parallax angles for stars up to about 1,600 light-years away, a little more than one percent of the diameter of the Milky Way Galaxy; the Hubble telescope WFC3 now has a precision of 20 to 40 microarcseconds, enabling reliable distance measurements u
In astronomy, stellar classification is the classification of stars based on their spectral characteristics. Electromagnetic radiation from the star is analyzed by splitting it with a prism or diffraction grating into a spectrum exhibiting the rainbow of colors interspersed with spectral lines; each line indicates a particular chemical element or molecule, with the line strength indicating the abundance of that element. The strengths of the different spectral lines vary due to the temperature of the photosphere, although in some cases there are true abundance differences; the spectral class of a star is a short code summarizing the ionization state, giving an objective measure of the photosphere's temperature. Most stars are classified under the Morgan-Keenan system using the letters O, B, A, F, G, K, M, a sequence from the hottest to the coolest; each letter class is subdivided using a numeric digit with 0 being hottest and 9 being coolest. The sequence has been expanded with classes for other stars and star-like objects that do not fit in the classical system, such as class D for white dwarfs and classes S and C for carbon stars.
In the MK system, a luminosity class is added to the spectral class using Roman numerals. This is based on the width of certain absorption lines in the star's spectrum, which vary with the density of the atmosphere and so distinguish giant stars from dwarfs. Luminosity class 0 or Ia+ is used for hypergiants, class I for supergiants, class II for bright giants, class III for regular giants, class IV for sub-giants, class V for main-sequence stars, class sd for sub-dwarfs, class D for white dwarfs; the full spectral class for the Sun is G2V, indicating a main-sequence star with a temperature around 5,800 K. The conventional color description takes into account only the peak of the stellar spectrum. In actuality, stars radiate in all parts of the spectrum; because all spectral colors combined appear white, the actual apparent colors the human eye would observe are far lighter than the conventional color descriptions would suggest. This characteristic of'lightness' indicates that the simplified assignment of colors within the spectrum can be misleading.
Excluding color-contrast illusions in dim light, there are indigo, or violet stars. Red dwarfs are a deep shade of orange, brown dwarfs do not appear brown, but hypothetically would appear dim grey to a nearby observer; the modern classification system is known as the Morgan–Keenan classification. Each star is assigned a spectral class from the older Harvard spectral classification and a luminosity class using Roman numerals as explained below, forming the star's spectral type. Other modern stellar classification systems, such as the UBV system, are based on color indexes—the measured differences in three or more color magnitudes; those numbers are given labels such as "U-V" or "B-V", which represent the colors passed by two standard filters. The Harvard system is a one-dimensional classification scheme by astronomer Annie Jump Cannon, who re-ordered and simplified a prior alphabetical system. Stars are grouped according to their spectral characteristics by single letters of the alphabet, optionally with numeric subdivisions.
Main-sequence stars vary in surface temperature from 2,000 to 50,000 K, whereas more-evolved stars can have temperatures above 100,000 K. Physically, the classes indicate the temperature of the star's atmosphere and are listed from hottest to coldest; the spectral classes O through M, as well as other more specialized classes discussed are subdivided by Arabic numerals, where 0 denotes the hottest stars of a given class. For example, A0 denotes A9 denotes the coolest ones. Fractional numbers are allowed; the Sun is classified as G2. Conventional color descriptions are traditional in astronomy, represent colors relative to the mean color of an A class star, considered to be white; the apparent color descriptions are what the observer would see if trying to describe the stars under a dark sky without aid to the eye, or with binoculars. However, most stars in the sky, except the brightest ones, appear white or bluish white to the unaided eye because they are too dim for color vision to work. Red supergiants are cooler and redder than dwarfs of the same spectral type, stars with particular spectral features such as carbon stars may be far redder than any black body.
The fact that the Harvard classification of a star indicated its surface or photospheric temperature was not understood until after its development, though by the time the first Hertzsprung–Russell diagram was formulated, this was suspected to be true. In the 1920s, the Indian physicist Meghnad Saha derived a theory of ionization by extending well-known ideas in physical chemistry pertaining to the dissociation of molecules to the ionization of atoms. First he applied it to the solar chromosphere to stellar spectra. Harvard astronomer Cecilia Payne demonstrated that the O-B-A-F-G-K-M spectral sequence is a sequence in temperature; because the classification sequence predates our understanding that it is a temperature sequence, the placement of a spectrum into a given subtype, such as B3 or A7, depends upon estimates of the strengths of absorption features in stellar spectra. As a result, these subtypes are not evenly divided into any sort of mathematically representable intervals; the Yerkes spectral classification called the MKK system from the authors' initial
In astronomy, luminosity is the total amount of energy emitted per unit of time by a star, galaxy, or other astronomical object. As a term for energy emitted per unit time, luminosity is synonymous with power. In SI units luminosity is measured in joules per second or watts. Values for luminosity are given in the terms of the luminosity of the Sun, L⊙. Luminosity can be given in terms of the astronomical magnitude system: the absolute bolometric magnitude of an object is a logarithmic measure of its total energy emission rate, while absolute magnitude is a logarithmic measure of the luminosity within some specific wavelength range or filter band. In contrast, the term brightness in astronomy is used to refer to an object's apparent brightness: that is, how bright an object appears to an observer. Apparent brightness depends on both the luminosity of the object and the distance between the object and observer, on any absorption of light along the path from object to observer. Apparent magnitude is a logarithmic measure of apparent brightness.
The distance determined by luminosity measures can be somewhat ambiguous, is thus sometimes called the luminosity distance. In astronomy, luminosity is the amount of electromagnetic energy; when not qualified, the term "luminosity" means bolometric luminosity, measured either in the SI units, watts, or in terms of solar luminosities. A bolometer is the instrument used to measure radiant energy over a wide band by absorption and measurement of heating. A star radiates neutrinos, which carry off some energy, contributing to the star's total luminosity; the IAU has defined a nominal solar luminosity of 3.828×1026 W to promote publication of consistent and comparable values in units of the solar luminosity. While bolometers do exist, they cannot be used to measure the apparent brightness of a star because they are insufficiently sensitive across the electromagnetic spectrum and because most wavelengths do not reach the surface of the Earth. In practice bolometric magnitudes are measured by taking measurements at certain wavelengths and constructing a model of the total spectrum, most to match those measurements.
In some cases, the process of estimation is extreme, with luminosities being calculated when less than 1% of the energy output is observed, for example with a hot Wolf-Rayet star observed only in the infra-red. Bolometric luminosities can be calculated using a bolometric correction to a luminosity in a particular passband; the term luminosity is used in relation to particular passbands such as a visual luminosity of K-band luminosity. These are not luminosities in the strict sense of an absolute measure of radiated power, but absolute magnitudes defined for a given filter in a photometric system. Several different photometric systems exist; some such as the UBV or Johnson system are defined against photometric standard stars, while others such as the AB system are defined in terms of a spectral flux density. A star's luminosity can be determined from two stellar characteristics: size and effective temperature; the former is represented in terms of solar radii, R⊙, while the latter is represented in kelvins, but in most cases neither can be measured directly.
To determine a star's radius, two other metrics are needed: the star's angular diameter and its distance from Earth. Both can be measured with great accuracy in certain cases, with cool supergiants having large angular diameters, some cool evolved stars having masers in their atmospheres that can be used to measure the parallax using VLBI. However, for most stars the angular diameter or parallax, or both, are far below our ability to measure with any certainty. Since the effective temperature is a number that represents the temperature of a black body that would reproduce the luminosity, it cannot be measured directly, but it can be estimated from the spectrum. An alternative way to measure stellar luminosity is to measure the star's apparent brightness and distance. A third component needed to derive the luminosity is the degree of interstellar extinction, present, a condition that arises because of gas and dust present in the interstellar medium, the Earth's atmosphere, circumstellar matter.
One of astronomy's central challenges in determining a star's luminosity is to derive accurate measurements for each of these components, without which an accurate luminosity figure remains elusive. Extinction can only be measured directly if the actual and observed luminosities are both known, but it can be estimated from the observed colour of a star, using models of the expected level of reddening from the interstellar medium. In the current system of stellar classification, stars are grouped according to temperature, with the massive young and energetic Class O stars boasting temperatures in excess of 30,000 K while the less massive older Class M stars exhibit temperatures less than 3,500 K; because luminosity is proportional to temperature to the fourth power, the large variation in stellar temperatures produces an vaster variation in stellar luminosity. Because the luminosity depends on a high power of the stellar mass, high mass luminous stars have much shorter lifetimes; the most luminous stars are always young stars, no more than a few million years for the most extreme.
In the Hertzsprung–Russell diagram, the x-axis represents temperature or spectral type while the y-axis represents luminosity or magnitude. The vast majority of stars are found along the main sequence with blue Class O stars found at the top left of the chart while red Class M stars fall to the bottom right. Certain stars like Deneb and Betelgeuse are
The effective temperature of a body such as a star or planet is the temperature of a black body that would emit the same total amount of electromagnetic radiation. Effective temperature is used as an estimate of a body's surface temperature when the body's emissivity curve is not known; when the star's or planet's net emissivity in the relevant wavelength band is less than unity, the actual temperature of the body will be higher than the effective temperature. The net emissivity may be low due to surface or atmospheric properties, including greenhouse effect; the effective temperature of a star is the temperature of a black body with the same luminosity per surface area as the star and is defined according to the Stefan–Boltzmann law FBol = σTeff4. Notice that the total luminosity of a star is L = 4πR2σTeff4, where R is the stellar radius; the definition of the stellar radius is not straightforward. More rigorously the effective temperature corresponds to the temperature at the radius, defined by a certain value of the Rosseland optical depth within the stellar atmosphere.
The effective temperature and the bolometric luminosity are the two fundamental physical parameters needed to place a star on the Hertzsprung–Russell diagram. Both effective temperature and bolometric luminosity depend on the chemical composition of a star; the effective temperature of our Sun is around 5780 kelvins. Stars have a decreasing temperature gradient; the "core temperature" of the Sun—the temperature at the centre of the Sun where nuclear reactions take place—is estimated to be 15,000,000 K. The color index of a star indicates its temperature from the cool—by stellar standards—red M stars that radiate in the infrared to the hot blue O stars that radiate in the ultraviolet; the effective temperature of a star indicates the amount of heat that the star radiates per unit of surface area. From the warmest surfaces to the coolest is the sequence of stellar classifications known as O, B, A, F, G, K, M. A red star could be a tiny red dwarf, a star of feeble energy production and a small surface or a bloated giant or supergiant star such as Antares or Betelgeuse, either of which generates far greater energy but passes it through a surface so large that the star radiates little per unit of surface area.
A star near the middle of the spectrum, such as the modest Sun or the giant Capella radiates more energy per unit of surface area than the feeble red dwarf stars or the bloated supergiants, but much less than such a white or blue star as Vega or Rigel. To find the effective temperature of a planet, it can be calculated by equating the power received by the planet to the known power emitted by a blackbody of temperature T. Take the case of a planet at a distance D from the star, of luminosity L. Assuming the star radiates isotropically and that the planet is a long way from the star, the power absorbed by the planet is given by treating the planet as a disc of radius r, which intercepts some of the power, spread over the surface of a sphere of radius D; the calculation assumes the planet reflects some of the incoming radiation by incorporating a parameter called the albedo. An albedo of 1 means that all the radiation is reflected, an albedo of 0 means all of it is absorbed; the expression for absorbed power is then: P a b s = L r 2 4 D 2 The next assumption we can make is that the entire planet is at the same temperature T, that the planet radiates as a blackbody.
The Stefan–Boltzmann law gives an expression for the power radiated by the planet: P r a d = 4 π r 2 σ T 4 Equating these two expressions and rearranging gives an expression for the effective temperature: T = L 16 π σ D 2 4 Note that the planet's radius has cancelled out of the final expression. The effective temperature for Jupiter from this calculation is 88 K and 51 Pegasi b is 1,258 K. A better estimate of effective temperature for some planets, such as Jupiter, would need to include the internal heating as a power input; the actual temperature depends on atmosphere effects. The actual temperature from spectroscopic analysis for HD 209458 b is 1,130 K, but the effective temperature is 1,359 K; the internal heating within Jupiter raises the effective temperature to about 152 K. The surface temperature of a planet can be estimated by modifying the effective-temperature calculation to account for emissivity and temperature variation; the area of the planet that absorbs the power from the star is Aabs, some fraction of the total surface area Atotal = 4πr2, where r is the radius of the planet.
This area intercepts some of the power, spread over the surface of a sphere of radius D. We allow the planet to reflect some of the incoming radiation by incorporating a parameter a called the albedo. An albedo of 1 means that all the radiation is reflected, an albedo
Astrometry is the branch of astronomy that involves precise measurements of the positions and movements of stars and other celestial bodies. The information obtained by astrometric measurements provides information on the kinematics and physical origin of the Solar System and our galaxy, the Milky Way; the history of astrometry is linked to the history of star catalogues, which gave astronomers reference points for objects in the sky so they could track their movements. This can be dated back to Hipparchus, who around 190 BC used the catalogue of his predecessors Timocharis and Aristillus to discover Earth's precession. In doing so, he developed the brightness scale still in use today. Hipparchus compiled a catalogue with their positions. Hipparchus's successor, included a catalogue of 1,022 stars in his work the Almagest, giving their location and brightness. In the 10th century, Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi carried out observations on the stars and described their positions and star color. Ibn Yunus observed more than 10,000 entries for the Sun's position for many years using a large astrolabe with a diameter of nearly 1.4 metres.
His observations on eclipses were still used centuries in Simon Newcomb's investigations on the motion of the Moon, while his other observations of the motions of the planets Jupiter and Saturn inspired Laplace's Obliquity of the Ecliptic and Inequalities of Jupiter and Saturn. In the 15th century, the Timurid astronomer Ulugh Beg compiled the Zij-i-Sultani, in which he catalogued 1,019 stars. Like the earlier catalogs of Hipparchus and Ptolemy, Ulugh Beg's catalogue is estimated to have been precise to within 20 minutes of arc. In the 16th century, Tycho Brahe used improved instruments, including large mural instruments, to measure star positions more than with a precision of 15–35 arcsec. Taqi al-Din measured the right ascension of the stars at the Constantinople Observatory of Taqi ad-Din using the "observational clock" he invented; when telescopes became commonplace, setting circles sped measurements James Bradley first tried to measure stellar parallaxes in 1729. The stellar movement proved too insignificant for his telescope, but he instead discovered the aberration of light and the nutation of the Earth's axis.
His cataloguing of 3222 stars was refined in 1807 by Friedrich Bessel, the father of modern astrometry. He made the first measurement of stellar parallax: 0.3 arcsec for the binary star 61 Cygni. Being difficult to measure, only about 60 stellar parallaxes had been obtained by the end of the 19th century by use of the filar micrometer. Astrographs using astronomical photographic plates sped the process in the early 20th century. Automated plate-measuring machines and more sophisticated computer technology of the 1960s allowed more efficient compilation of star catalogues. In the 1980s, charge-coupled devices replaced photographic plates and reduced optical uncertainties to one milliarcsecond; this technology made astrometry less expensive. In 1989, the European Space Agency's Hipparcos satellite took astrometry into orbit, where it could be less affected by mechanical forces of the Earth and optical distortions from its atmosphere. Operated from 1989 to 1993, Hipparcos measured large and small angles on the sky with much greater precision than any previous optical telescopes.
During its 4-year run, the positions and proper motions of 118,218 stars were determined with an unprecedented degree of accuracy. A new "Tycho catalog" drew together a database of 1,058,332 to within 20-30 mas. Additional catalogues were compiled for the 23,882 double/multiple stars and 11,597 variable stars analyzed during the Hipparcos mission. Today, the catalogue most used is USNO-B1.0, an all-sky catalogue that tracks proper motions, positions and other characteristics for over one billion stellar objects. During the past 50 years, 7,435 Schmidt camera plates were used to complete several sky surveys that make the data in USNO-B1.0 accurate to within 0.2 arcsec. Apart from the fundamental function of providing astronomers with a reference frame to report their observations in, astrometry is fundamental for fields like celestial mechanics, stellar dynamics and galactic astronomy. In observational astronomy, astrometric techniques help identify stellar objects by their unique motions, it is instrumental for keeping time, in that UTC is the atomic time synchronized to Earth's rotation by means of exact astronomical observations.
Astrometry is an important step in the cosmic distance ladder because it establishes parallax distance estimates for stars in the Milky Way. Astrometry has been used to support claims of extrasolar planet detection by measuring the displacement the proposed planets cause in their parent star's apparent position on the sky, due to their mutual orbit around the center of mass of the system. Astrometry is more accurate in space missions that are not affected by the distorting effects of the Earth's atmosphere. NASA's planned Space Interferometry Mission was to utilize astrometric techniques to detect terrestrial planets orbiting 200 or so of the nearest solar-type stars; the European Space Agency's Gaia Mission, launched in 2013, applies astrometric techniques in its stellar census. In addition to the detection of exoplanets, it can be used to determine their mass. Astrometric measurements are used by astrophysicists to constrain certain models in celestial mechanics. By measuring the velocities of pulsars, it is possible to put a limit on the asymmetry of supernova explosions.
Asymptotic giant branch
The asymptotic giant branch is a region of the Hertzsprung–Russell diagram populated by evolved cool luminous stars. This is a period of stellar evolution undertaken by all low- to intermediate-mass stars late in their lives. Observationally, an asymptotic-giant-branch star will appear as a bright red giant with a luminosity ranging up to thousands of times greater than the Sun, its interior structure is characterized by a central and inert core of carbon and oxygen, a shell where helium is undergoing fusion to form carbon, another shell where hydrogen is undergoing fusion forming helium, a large envelope of material of composition similar to main-sequence stars. When a star exhausts the supply of hydrogen by nuclear fusion processes in its core, the core contracts and its temperature increases, causing the outer layers of the star to expand and cool; the star becomes a red giant, following a track towards the upper-right hand corner of the HR diagram. Once the temperature in the core has reached 3×108 K, helium burning begins.
The onset of helium burning in the core halts the star's cooling and increase in luminosity, the star instead moves down and leftwards in the HR diagram. This is the horizontal branch or red clump, or a blue loop for stars more massive than about 2 M☉. After the completion of helium burning in the core, the star again moves to the right and upwards on the diagram and expanding as its luminosity increases, its path is aligned with its previous red-giant track, hence the name asymptotic giant branch, although the star will become more luminous on the AGB than it did at the tip of the red giant branch. Stars at this stage of stellar evolution are known as AGB stars; the AGB phase is divided into two parts, the early AGB and the thermally pulsing AGB. During the E-AGB phase, the main source of energy is helium fusion in a shell around a core consisting of carbon and oxygen. During this phase, the star swells up to giant proportions to become a red giant again; the star's radius may become as large as one astronomical unit.
After the helium shell runs out of fuel, the TP-AGB starts. Now the star derives its energy from fusion of hydrogen in a thin shell, which restricts the inner helium shell to a thin layer and prevents it fusing stably. However, over periods of 10,000 to 100,000 years, helium from the hydrogen shell burning builds up and the helium shell ignites explosively, a process known as a helium shell flash; the luminosity of the shell flash peaks at thousands of times the total luminosity of the star, but decreases exponentially over just a few years. The shell flash causes the star to expand and cool which shuts off the hydrogen shell burning and causes strong convection in the zone between the two shells; when the helium shell burning nears the base of the hydrogen shell, the increased temperature reignites hydrogen fusion and the cycle begins again. The large but brief increase in luminosity from the helium shell flash produces an increase in the visible brightness of the star of a few tenths of a magnitude for several hundred years, a change unrelated to the brightness variations on periods of tens to hundreds of days that are common in this type of star.
During the thermal pulses, which last only a few hundred years, material from the core region may be mixed into the outer layers, changing the surface composition, a process referred to as dredge-up. Because of this dredge-up, AGB stars may show S-process elements in their spectra and strong dredge-ups can lead to the formation of carbon stars. All dredge-ups following thermal pulses are referred to as third dredge-ups, after the first dredge-up, which occurs on the red-giant branch, the second dredge up, which occurs during the E-AGB. In some cases there may not be a second dredge-up but dredge-ups following thermal pulses will still be called a third dredge-up. Thermal pulses increase in strength after the first few, so third dredge-ups are the deepest and most to circulate core material to the surface. AGB stars are long-period variables, suffer mass loss in the form of a stellar wind. Thermal pulses produce periods of higher mass loss and may result in detached shells of circumstellar material.
A star may lose 50 to 70% of its mass during the AGB phase. The extensive mass loss of AGB stars means that they are surrounded by an extended circumstellar envelope. Given a mean AGB lifetime of one Myr and an outer velocity of 10 km/s, its maximum radius can be estimated to be 3×1014 km; this is a maximum value since the wind material will start to mix with the interstellar medium at large radii, it assumes that there is no velocity difference between the star and the interstellar gas. Dynamically, most of the interesting action is quite close to the star, where the wind is launched and the mass loss rate is determined. However, the outer layers of the CSE show chemically interesting processes, due to size and lower optical depth, are easier to observe; the temperature of the CSE is determined by heating and cooling properties of the gas and dust, but drops with radial distance from the photosphere of the stars which are 2,000–3,000 K. Chemical peculiarities of an AGB CSE outwards include: Photosphere: Local thermodynamic equilibrium chemistry Pulsating stellar envelope: Shock chemistry Dust formation zone Chemically quiet Interstellar ultraviolet radiation and photodissociation of molecules – complex chemistryThe dichotomy between oxygen-rich and carbon-rich stars has an initial role in determining whether the first condensates are oxi