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Stars

What do you know about stars?

Hubble Telescope view of the exploding star Eta Carina

What is it that shines and twinkles in the night sky? Astronomers have studied stars for centuries but only recently have begun to understand them. Stars, constellations, galaxies and nebulae are all related, as you will see.

The picture at left shows a Hubble Telescope view of an exploding star called Eta Carina. The gas and dust will eventually spread out to form a nebula (see Nebulae page).

For most of recorded history the Earth was thought to be the center of the universe and never moved. The constellations were named and stories were told about them as they appeared through the seasons. Without a telescope or other aid the stars seem to be just points of light that move across the sky at night. Some wandered about which we now know are planets. Let's look at some facts about stars.

Stars can be packed so close as to be seen as Star Clouds, grouped like a ball as in Globular Clusters or rather loosely assembled in Open Clusters. Patterns are called Constellations and parts of these like the Big Dipper in Ursa Major are called Asterisms.

Stars come in different sizes. Supergiant stars range from 100 to 1000 times the diameter of the sun and giants range from 10 to 100 times the diameter of the sun. Dwarf stars can be 1000 times smaller than the sun. Click here to learn about our sun.

Stars vary in color based on their approximate surface temperature.

Color

Temperature

Example

Constellation

  Blue-White

36,000° F and up

Rigel

Orion

  White

20,000° F

Vega

Lyra

  Yellow-white

11,000° F

Capella

Auriga

  Orange

7,500° F

Arcturus

Bootes

  Red

5,500° F

Antares

Scorpius


Globular Star Cluster in Hercules An example of a globular star cluster is at right in the constellation Hercules.

There are other types of stars, too. Double Stars are two stars that look like one to the naked eye but separate in a telescope view. They may not be orbiting each other as in a true Binary Star but appear to line up that way. In an Eclipsing Binary, stars orbit in such a way as to eclipse each other as seen from Earth. Variable Stars are stars that vary in brightness by various reasons. Novas and Supernovas are exploding stars that are blowing off their outer shells.

Two examples below show the Ring Nebula, a tube of gas and dust around a nova star and the Veil Nebula showing how the Ring might look after it expands and fades into the interstellar medium.

Ring Nebula in Lyra Veil Nebula
Ring Nebula Veil Nebula

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Star information for elementary students.
Ask NASA about stars.
Ask a NASA astronomer.
Parts of a star.


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