The ecliptic is the mean plane of the apparent path in the Earth's sky that the Sun follows over the course of one year. This plane of reference is coplanar with Earth's orbit around the Sun; the ecliptic is not noticeable from Earth's surface because the planet's rotation carries the observer through the daily cycles of sunrise and sunset, which obscure the Sun's apparent motion against the background of stars during the year. The motions as described above are simplifications. Due to the movement of Earth around the Earth–Moon center of mass, the apparent path of the Sun wobbles with a period of about one month. Due to further perturbations by the other planets of the Solar System, the Earth–Moon barycenter wobbles around a mean position in a complex fashion; the ecliptic is the apparent path of the Sun throughout the course of a year. Because Earth takes one year to orbit the Sun, the apparent position of the Sun takes one year to make a complete circuit of the ecliptic. With more than 365 days in one year, the Sun moves a little less than 1° eastward every day.
This small difference in the Sun's position against the stars causes any particular spot on Earth's surface to catch up with the Sun about four minutes each day than it would if Earth would not orbit. Again, this is a simplification, based on a hypothetical Earth that orbits at uniform speed around the Sun; the actual speed with which Earth orbits the Sun varies during the year, so the speed with which the Sun seems to move along the ecliptic varies. For example, the Sun is north of the celestial equator for about 185 days of each year, south of it for about 180 days; the variation of orbital speed accounts for part of the equation of time. Because Earth's rotational axis is not perpendicular to its orbital plane, Earth's equatorial plane is not coplanar with the ecliptic plane, but is inclined to it by an angle of about 23.4°, known as the obliquity of the ecliptic. If the equator is projected outward to the celestial sphere, forming the celestial equator, it crosses the ecliptic at two points known as the equinoxes.
The Sun, in its apparent motion along the ecliptic, crosses the celestial equator at these points, one from south to north, the other from north to south. The crossing from south to north is known as the vernal equinox known as the first point of Aries and the ascending node of the ecliptic on the celestial equator; the crossing from north to south is descending node. The orientation of Earth's axis and equator are not fixed in space, but rotate about the poles of the ecliptic with a period of about 26,000 years, a process known as lunisolar precession, as it is due to the gravitational effect of the Moon and Sun on Earth's equatorial bulge; the ecliptic itself is not fixed. The gravitational perturbations of the other bodies of the Solar System cause a much smaller motion of the plane of Earth's orbit, hence of the ecliptic, known as planetary precession; the combined action of these two motions is called general precession, changes the position of the equinoxes by about 50 arc seconds per year.
Once again, this is a simplification. Periodic motions of the Moon and apparent periodic motions of the Sun cause short-term small-amplitude periodic oscillations of Earth's axis, hence the celestial equator, known as nutation; this adds a periodic component to the position of the equinoxes. Obliquity of the ecliptic is the term used by astronomers for the inclination of Earth's equator with respect to the ecliptic, or of Earth's rotation axis to a perpendicular to the ecliptic, it is about 23.4° and is decreasing 0.013 degrees per hundred years due to planetary perturbations. The angular value of the obliquity is found by observation of the motions of Earth and other planets over many years. Astronomers produce new fundamental ephemerides as the accuracy of observation improves and as the understanding of the dynamics increases, from these ephemerides various astronomical values, including the obliquity, are derived; until 1983 the obliquity for any date was calculated from work of Newcomb, who analyzed positions of the planets until about 1895: ε = 23° 27′ 08″.26 − 46″.845 T − 0″.0059 T2 + 0″.00181 T3 where ε is the obliquity and T is tropical centuries from B1900.0 to the date in question.
From 1984, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's DE series of computer-generated ephemerides took over as the fundamental ephemeris of the Astronomical Almanac. Obliquity based on DE200, which analyzed observations from 1911 to 1979, was calculated: ε = 23° 26′ 21″.45 − 46″.815 T − 0″.0006 T2 + 0″.00181 T3 where hereafter T is Julian centuries from J2000.0. JPL's fundamental ephemerides have been continually updated; the Astronomical Almanac for 2010 specifies:ε = 23° 26′ 21″.406 − 46″.836769 T − 0″.0001831 T2 + 0″.00200340 T3 − 0″.576×10−6 T4 − 4″.34×10−8 T5 These expressions for the obliquity are intended for high precision over a short time span ± several centuries. J. Laskar computed an expression to order T10 good to 0″.04/1000 years over 10,000 years. All of these expressions are for the mean obliquity, that is, without the nutation of the equator included; the true or instantaneous obliquity includes the nutation. Most of the major bodies of the Solar System o
The radial velocity of an object with respect to a given point is the rate of change of the distance between the object and the point. That is, the radial velocity is the component of the object's velocity that points in the direction of the radius connecting the object and the point. In astronomy, the point is taken to be the observer on Earth, so the radial velocity denotes the speed with which the object moves away from or approaches the Earth. In astronomy, radial velocity is measured to the first order of approximation by Doppler spectroscopy; the quantity obtained by this method may be called the barycentric radial-velocity measure or spectroscopic radial velocity. However, due to relativistic and cosmological effects over the great distances that light travels to reach the observer from an astronomical object, this measure cannot be transformed to a geometric radial velocity without additional assumptions about the object and the space between it and the observer. By contrast, astrometric radial velocity is determined by astrometric observations.
Light from an object with a substantial relative radial velocity at emission will be subject to the Doppler effect, so the frequency of the light decreases for objects that were receding and increases for objects that were approaching. The radial velocity of a star or other luminous distant objects can be measured by taking a high-resolution spectrum and comparing the measured wavelengths of known spectral lines to wavelengths from laboratory measurements. A positive radial velocity indicates the distance between the objects was increasing. In many binary stars, the orbital motion causes radial velocity variations of several kilometers per second; as the spectra of these stars vary due to the Doppler effect, they are called spectroscopic binaries. Radial velocity can be used to estimate the ratio of the masses of the stars, some orbital elements, such as eccentricity and semimajor axis; the same method has been used to detect planets around stars, in the way that the movement's measurement determines the planet's orbital period, while the resulting radial-velocity amplitude allows the calculation of the lower bound on a planet's mass using the binary mass function.
Radial velocity methods alone may only reveal a lower bound, since a large planet orbiting at a high angle to the line of sight will perturb its star radially as much as a much smaller planet with an orbital plane on the line of sight. It has been suggested that planets with high eccentricities calculated by this method may in fact be two-planet systems of circular or near-circular resonant orbit; the radial velocity method to detect exoplanets is based on the detection of variations in the velocity of the central star, due to the changing direction of the gravitational pull from an exoplanet as it orbits the star. When the star moves towards us, its spectrum is blueshifted, while it is redshifted when it moves away from us. By looking at the spectrum of a star—and so, measuring its velocity—it can be determined if it moves periodically due to the influence of an exoplanet companion. From the instrumental perspective, velocities are measured relative to the telescope's motion. So an important first step of the data reduction is to remove the contributions of the Earth's elliptic motion around the sun at ± 30 km/s, a monthly rotation of ± 13 m/s of the Earth around the center of gravity of the Earth-Moon system, the daily rotation of the telescope with the Earth crust around the Earth axis, up to ±460 m/s at the equator and proportional to the cosine of the telescope's geographic latitude, small contributions from the Earth polar motion at the level of mm/s, contributions of 230 km/s from the motion around the Galactic center and associated proper motions.
In the case of spectroscopic measurements corrections of the order of ±20 cm/s with respect to aberration. Proper motion Peculiar velocity Relative velocity Space velocity The Radial Velocity Equation in the Search for Exoplanets
The Moon is an astronomical body that orbits planet Earth and is Earth's only permanent natural satellite. It is the fifth-largest natural satellite in the Solar System, the largest among planetary satellites relative to the size of the planet that it orbits; the Moon is after Jupiter's satellite Io the second-densest satellite in the Solar System among those whose densities are known. The Moon is thought to have formed not long after Earth; the most accepted explanation is that the Moon formed from the debris left over after a giant impact between Earth and a Mars-sized body called Theia. The Moon is in synchronous rotation with Earth, thus always shows the same side to Earth, the near side; the near side is marked by dark volcanic maria that fill the spaces between the bright ancient crustal highlands and the prominent impact craters. After the Sun, the Moon is the second-brightest visible celestial object in Earth's sky, its surface is dark, although compared to the night sky it appears bright, with a reflectance just higher than that of worn asphalt.
Its gravitational influence produces the ocean tides, body tides, the slight lengthening of the day. The Moon's average orbital distance is 1.28 light-seconds. This is about thirty times the diameter of Earth; the Moon's apparent size in the sky is the same as that of the Sun, since the star is about 400 times the lunar distance and diameter. Therefore, the Moon covers the Sun nearly during a total solar eclipse; this matching of apparent visual size will not continue in the far future because the Moon's distance from Earth is increasing. The Moon was first reached in September 1959 by an unmanned spacecraft; the United States' NASA Apollo program achieved the only manned lunar missions to date, beginning with the first manned orbital mission by Apollo 8 in 1968, six manned landings between 1969 and 1972, with the first being Apollo 11. These missions returned lunar rocks which have been used to develop a geological understanding of the Moon's origin, internal structure, the Moon's history. Since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972, the Moon has been visited only by unmanned spacecraft.
Both the Moon's natural prominence in the earthly sky and its regular cycle of phases as seen from Earth have provided cultural references and influences for human societies and cultures since time immemorial. Such cultural influences can be found in language, lunar calendar systems and mythology; the usual English proper name for Earth's natural satellite is "the Moon", which in nonscientific texts is not capitalized. The noun moon is derived from Old English mōna, which stems from Proto-Germanic *mēnô, which comes from Proto-Indo-European *mḗh₁n̥s "moon", "month", which comes from the Proto-Indo-European root *meh₁- "to measure", the month being the ancient unit of time measured by the Moon; the name "Luna" is used. In literature science fiction, "Luna" is used to distinguish it from other moons, while in poetry, the name has been used to denote personification of Earth's moon; the modern English adjective pertaining to the Moon is lunar, derived from the Latin word for the Moon, luna. The adjective selenic is so used to refer to the Moon that this meaning is not recorded in most major dictionaries.
It is derived from the Ancient Greek word for the Moon, σελήνη, from, however derived the prefix "seleno-", as in selenography, the study of the physical features of the Moon, as well as the element name selenium. Both the Greek goddess Selene and the Roman goddess Diana were alternatively called Cynthia; the names Luna and Selene are reflected in terminology for lunar orbits in words such as apolune and selenocentric. The name Diana comes from the Proto-Indo-European *diw-yo, "heavenly", which comes from the PIE root *dyeu- "to shine," which in many derivatives means "sky and god" and is the origin of Latin dies, "day"; the Moon formed 4.51 billion years ago, some 60 million years after the origin of the Solar System. Several forming mechanisms have been proposed, including the fission of the Moon from Earth's crust through centrifugal force, the gravitational capture of a pre-formed Moon, the co-formation of Earth and the Moon together in the primordial accretion disk; these hypotheses cannot account for the high angular momentum of the Earth–Moon system.
The prevailing hypothesis is that the Earth–Moon system formed after an impact of a Mars-sized body with the proto-Earth. The impact blasted material into Earth's orbit and the material accreted and formed the Moon; the Moon's far side has a crust, 30 mi thicker than that of the near side. This is thought to be; this hypothesis, although not perfect best explains the evidence. Eighteen months prior to an October 1984 conference on lunar origins, Bill Hartmann, Roger Phillips, Jeff Taylor challenged fellow lunar scientists: "You have eighteen months. Go back to your Apollo data, go back to your computer, do whatever you have to, but make up your mind. Don't come to our conference unless you have something to say about the Moon's birth." At the 1984 conference at Kona, the giant impact hypothesis emerged as the most consensual theory. Before the conference, there were parti
International Astronomical Union
The International Astronomical Union is an international association of professional astronomers, at the PhD level and beyond, active in professional research and education in astronomy. Among other activities, it acts as the internationally recognized authority for assigning designations and names to celestial bodies and any surface features on them; the IAU is a member of the International Council for Science. Its main objective is to promote and safeguard the science of astronomy in all its aspects through international cooperation; the IAU maintains friendly relations with organizations that include amateur astronomers in their membership. The IAU has its head office on the second floor of the Institut d'Astrophysique de Paris in the 14th arrondissement of Paris. Working groups include the Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature, which maintains the astronomical naming conventions and planetary nomenclature for planetary bodies, the Working Group on Star Names, which catalogs and standardizes proper names for stars.
The IAU is responsible for the system of astronomical telegrams which are produced and distributed on its behalf by the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams. The Minor Planet Center operates under the IAU, is a "clearinghouse" for all non-planetary or non-moon bodies in the Solar System; the Working Group for Meteor Shower Nomenclature and the Meteor Data Center coordinate the nomenclature of meteor showers. The IAU was founded on 28 July 1919, at the Constitutive Assembly of the International Research Council held in Brussels, Belgium. Two subsidiaries of the IAU were created at this assembly: the International Time Commission seated at the International Time Bureau in Paris and the International Central Bureau of Astronomical Telegrams seated in Copenhagen, Denmark; the 7 initial member states were Belgium, France, Great Britain, Greece and the United States, soon to be followed by Italy and Mexico. The first executive committee consisted of Benjamin Baillaud, Alfred Fowler, four vice presidents: William Campbell, Frank Dyson, Georges Lecointe, Annibale Riccò.
Thirty-two Commissions were appointed at the Brussels meeting and focused on topics ranging from relativity to minor planets. The reports of these 32 Commissions formed the main substance of the first General Assembly, which took place in Rome, Italy, 2–10 May 1922. By the end of the first General Assembly, ten additional nations had joined the Union, bringing the total membership to 19 countries. Although the Union was formed eight months after the end of World War I, international collaboration in astronomy had been strong in the pre-war era; the first 50 years of the Union's history are well documented. Subsequent history is recorded in the form of reminiscences of past IAU Presidents and General Secretaries. Twelve of the fourteen past General Secretaries in the period 1964-2006 contributed their recollections of the Union's history in IAU Information Bulletin No. 100. Six past IAU Presidents in the period 1976–2003 contributed their recollections in IAU Information Bulletin No. 104. The IAU includes a total of 12,664 individual members who are professional astronomers from 96 countries worldwide.
83% of all individual members are male, while 17% are female, among them the union's former president, Mexican astronomer Silvia Torres-Peimbert. Membership includes 79 national members, professional astronomical communities representing their country's affiliation with the IAU. National members include the Australian Academy of Science, the Chinese Astronomical Society, the French Academy of Sciences, the Indian National Science Academy, the National Academies, the National Research Foundation of South Africa, the National Scientific and Technical Research Council, KACST, the Council of German Observatories, the Royal Astronomical Society, the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Science Council of Japan, among many others; the sovereign body of the IAU is its General Assembly. The Assembly determines IAU policy, approves the Statutes and By-Laws of the Union and elects various committees; the right to vote on matters brought before the Assembly varies according to the type of business under discussion.
The Statutes consider such business to be divided into two categories: issues of a "primarily scientific nature", upon which voting is restricted to individual members, all other matters, upon which voting is restricted to the representatives of national members. On budget matters, votes are weighted according to the relative subscription levels of the national members. A second category vote requires a turnout of at least two-thirds of national members in order to be valid. An absolute majority is sufficient for approval in any vote, except for Statute revision which requires a two-thirds majority. An equality of votes is resolved by the vote of the President of the Union. Since 1922, the IAU General Assembly meets every three years, with the ex
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
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.
Stellar evolution is the process by which a star changes over the course of time. Depending on the mass of the star, its lifetime can range from a few million years for the most massive to trillions of years for the least massive, longer than the age of the universe; the table shows the lifetimes of stars as a function of their masses. All stars are born from collapsing clouds of gas and dust called nebulae or molecular clouds. Over the course of millions of years, these protostars settle down into a state of equilibrium, becoming what is known as a main-sequence star. Nuclear fusion powers a star for most of its life; the energy is generated by the fusion of hydrogen atoms at the core of the main-sequence star. As the preponderance of atoms at the core becomes helium, stars like the Sun begin to fuse hydrogen along a spherical shell surrounding the core; this process causes the star to grow in size, passing through the subgiant stage until it reaches the red giant phase. Stars with at least half the mass of the Sun can begin to generate energy through the fusion of helium at their core, whereas more-massive stars can fuse heavier elements along a series of concentric shells.
Once a star like the Sun has exhausted its nuclear fuel, its core collapses into a dense white dwarf and the outer layers are expelled as a planetary nebula. Stars with around ten or more times the mass of the Sun can explode in a supernova as their inert iron cores collapse into an dense neutron star or black hole. Although the universe is not old enough for any of the smallest red dwarfs to have reached the end of their lives, stellar models suggest they will become brighter and hotter before running out of hydrogen fuel and becoming low-mass white dwarfs. Stellar evolution is not studied by observing the life of a single star, as most stellar changes occur too to be detected over many centuries. Instead, astrophysicists come to understand how stars evolve by observing numerous stars at various points in their lifetime, by simulating stellar structure using computer models. Stellar evolution starts with the gravitational collapse of a giant molecular cloud. Typical giant molecular clouds are 100 light-years across and contain up to 6,000,000 solar masses.
As it collapses, a giant molecular cloud breaks into smaller pieces. In each of these fragments, the collapsing gas releases gravitational potential energy as heat; as its temperature and pressure increase, a fragment condenses into a rotating sphere of superhot gas known as a protostar. A protostar continues to grow by accretion of gas and dust from the molecular cloud, becoming a pre-main-sequence star as it reaches its final mass. Further development is determined by its mass. Mass is compared to the mass of the Sun: 1.0 M☉ means 1 solar mass. Protostars are encompassed in dust, are thus more visible at infrared wavelengths. Observations from the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer have been important for unveiling numerous Galactic protostars and their parent star clusters. Protostars with masses less than 0.08 M☉ never reach temperatures high enough for nuclear fusion of hydrogen to begin. These are known as brown dwarfs; the International Astronomical Union defines brown dwarfs as stars massive enough to fuse deuterium at some point in their lives.
Objects smaller than 13 MJ are classified as sub-brown dwarfs. Both types, deuterium-burning and not, shine dimly and die away cooling over hundreds of millions of years. For a more-massive protostar, the core temperature will reach 10 million kelvin, initiating the proton–proton chain reaction and allowing hydrogen to fuse, first to deuterium and to helium. In stars of over 1 M☉, the carbon–nitrogen–oxygen fusion reaction contributes a large portion of the energy generation; the onset of nuclear fusion leads quickly to a hydrostatic equilibrium in which energy released by the core maintains a high gas pressure, balancing the weight of the star's matter and preventing further gravitational collapse. The star thus evolves to a stable state, beginning the main-sequence phase of its evolution. A new star will sit at a specific point on the main sequence of the Hertzsprung–Russell diagram, with the main-sequence spectral type depending upon the mass of the star. Small cold, low-mass red dwarfs fuse hydrogen and will remain on the main sequence for hundreds of billions of years or longer, whereas massive, hot O-type stars will leave the main sequence after just a few million years.
A mid-sized yellow dwarf star, like the Sun, will remain on the main sequence for about 10 billion years. The Sun is thought to be in the middle of its main sequence lifespan; the core exhausts its supply of hydrogen and the star begins to evolve off of the main sequence. Without the outward pressure generated by the fusion of hydrogen to counteract the force of gravity the core contracts until either electron degeneracy pressure becomes sufficient to oppose gravity or the core becomes hot enough for helium fusion to begin. Which of these happens first depends upon the star's mass. What happens after a low-mass star ceases to produce energy through fusion has not been directly observed. Recent astrophysical models suggest that red dwarfs of 0.1 M☉ may stay on the main sequence for some six to twelve tril