18.1 A Stellar Census

To understand the properties of stars, we must make wide-ranging surveys. We find the stars that appear brightest to our eyes are bright primarily because they are intrinsically very luminous, not because they are the closest to us. Most of the nearest stars are intrinsically so faint that they can be seen only with the aid of a telescope. Stars with low mass and low luminosity are much more common than stars with high mass and high luminosity. Most of the brown dwarfs in the local neighborhood have not yet been discovered.

18.2 Measuring Stellar Masses

The masses of stars can be determined by analysis of the orbit of binary stars—two stars that orbit a common center of mass. In visual binaries, the two stars can be seen separately in a telescope, whereas in a spectroscopic binary, only the spectrum reveals the presence of two stars. Stellar masses range from about 1/12 to more than 100 times the mass of the Sun (in rare cases, going to 250 times the Sun’s mass). Objects with masses between 1/12 and 1/100 that of the Sun are called brown dwarfs. Objects in which no nuclear reactions can take place are planets. The most massive stars are, in most cases, also the most luminous, and this correlation is known as the mass-luminosity relation.

18.3 Diameters of Stars

The diameters of stars can be determined by measuring the time it takes an object (the Moon, a planet, or a companion star) to pass in front of it and block its light. Diameters of members of eclipsing binary systems (where the stars pass in front of each other) can be determined through analysis of their orbital motions.

18.4 The H–R Diagram

The Hertzsprung–Russell diagram, or H–R diagram, is a plot of stellar luminosity against surface temperature. Most stars lie on the main sequence, which extends diagonally across the H–R diagram from high temperature and high luminosity to low temperature and low luminosity. The position of a star along the main sequence is determined by its mass. High-mass stars emit more energy and are hotter than low-mass stars on the main sequence. Main-sequence stars derive their energy from the fusion of protons to helium. About 90% of the stars lie on the main sequence. Only about 10% of the stars are white dwarfs, and fewer than 1% are giants or supergiants.

This book was adapted from the following: Fraknoi, A., Morrison, D., & Wolff, S. C. (2016). Summary In Astronomy. OpenStax. under a Creative Commons Attribution License 4.0
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PPSC AST 1120: Stellar Astronomy by OpenStax is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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