Stellar Careers

In This Chapter

V Red giants and supergiants

V From supergiant to planetary nebula

V The death of a low-mass star

V Novae and supernovae

V The death of a high-mass star

V Supernovae as creators of elements

The stern Protestant theologian John Calvin would have liked stellar evolution. Each and every star appears "predestined" to follow a certain path in its life, and that path is set only by the mass of the star at its birth. There are some complications. If stars have nearby companions, they can be "revived" late in life, and the details of evolution for some stellar types are not entirely figured out. But the mass of a star at its birth does unalterably determine where it will reside on the main sequence, whether it will be a relatively cool M-type dwarf star, a hot and massive O or B star, or something in between (like our sun). Once the forces within a star—gravity pulling inward and the pressure of the heat of fusion pushing outward—reach equilibrium, stars enter the main sequence and the bulk of their lives—middle age, if you will—is relatively dull. But when the forces get out of balance and stars leave the main sequence to enter their death throes, the fireworks begin. The final years of a star can be spectacular, as this chapter shows.

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