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Posted by on Jul 1, 2017 in Tell Me Why |

Why Star Is Called a Body of Luminous Gas?

Why Star Is Called a Body of Luminous Gas?

A star is a body of luminous gas, like the sun. But as the stars are much farther away from the earth than the sun, they appear to be only small points of twinkling light. With the naked eye it is possible to see about 2,000 stars at any one time or place but with the most powerful telescope over 1,000 million stars are visible. Although light travels at 186,000 miles a second, the light from the stars take many years to reach the earth.

Stars are not fixed in space, but are traveling in different directions at different speeds. Seen from the earth, these movements appear to be so small that groups of stars, or constellations, seem to have a permanent relationship. The star patterns we see in the sky are almost the same as those seen by our ancestors hundreds, or even thousands of years ago.

The sizes of stars vary tremendously, from less than the diameter of the sun to thousands of times its size. Most stars appear white when looked at with the naked eye, but some are bluish-white, yellow, orange and red. The varied colors are due to differences in surface temperature. The brilliant, white stars are the hottest with surface temperature of several hundred thousand degrees.

The less brilliant, orange and red stars have surface temperatures of about 2,000 degrees. There are exceptions, however. The red giant, Betelgeux, in the constellation (or group) of Orion, appears to be brilliant because of its size. Its diameter is 250 million miles, which is greater than the diameter of the earth’s orbit round the sun. Shooting stars which are sometimes seen moving across the night sky for a few seconds are really meteors. These small particles flare up as they strike the earth’s atmosphere and usually burn out.

star's life

A star’s life begins with the gravitational collapse of a gaseous nebula of material composed primarily of hydrogen, along with helium and trace amounts of heavier elements. When the stellar core is sufficiently dense, hydrogen becomes steadily converted into helium through nuclear fusion, releasing energy in the process. The remainder of the star’s interior carries energy away from the core through a combination of radiative and convective heat transfer processes. The star’s internal pressure prevents it from collapsing further under its own gravity.

A star with mass greater than 0.4 times the Sun’s will expand to become a red giant when the hydrogen fuel in its core is exhausted. In some cases, it will fuse heavier elements at the core or in shells around the core. As the star expands it throws a part of its mass, enriched with those heavier elements, into the interstellar environment, to be recycled later as new stars. Meanwhile, the core becomes a stellar remnant: a white dwarf, a neutron star, or if it is sufficiently massive a black hole.

Binary and multi-star systems consist of two or more stars that are gravitationally bound and generally move around each other in stable orbits. When two such stars have a relatively close orbit, their gravitational interaction can have a significant impact on their evolution. Stars can form part of a much larger gravitationally bound structure, such as a star cluster or a galaxy.

The energy produced by stars, a product of nuclear fusion, radiates to space as both electromagnetic radiation and particle radiation. The particle radiation emitted by a star is manifested as the stellar wind, which streams from the outer layers as electrically charged protons and alpha and beta particles. Although almost massless, there also exists a steady stream of neutrinos emanating from the star’s core.

The production of energy at the core is the reason stars shine so brightly: every time two or more atomic nuclei fuse together to form a single atomic nucleus of a new heavier element, gamma ray photons are released from the nuclear fusion product. This energy is converted to other forms of electromagnetic energy of lower frequency, such as visible light, by the time it reaches the star’s outer layers.

The luminosity of a star is the amount of light and other forms of radiant energy it radiates per unit of time. It has units of power. The luminosity of a star is determined by its radius and surface temperature. Many stars do not radiate uniformly across their entire surface. The rapidly rotating star Vega, for example, has a higher energy flux (power per unit area) at its poles than along its equator.

Patches of the star’s surface with a lower temperature and luminosity than average are known as starspots. Small, dwarf stars such as our Sun generally have essentially featureless disks with only small starspots. Giant stars have much larger, more obvious starspots, and they also exhibit strong stellar limb darkening. That is, the brightness decreases towards the edge of the stellar disk. Red dwarf flare stars such as UV Ceti may also possess prominent starspot features.

Content for this question contributed by Kelly Maynard, resident of Springfield, Hampden County, Massachusetts, USA