Stellar Death Essay

1130 words - 5 pages

Understanding stellar evolution is important to astronomers because it allows them to estimate star age using spectroscopic studies, even though a star might be isolated and not part of a cluster. Star clusters form when an interstellar cloud collapses and fragments. Stars evolve within a cluster with the most massive stars evolving the fastest and creating the heaviest elements in their cores; although lower-mass stars take longer to evolve, they can also create heavy elements. Newly formed elements are scattered into the interstellar medium as the result of supernovae in the case of high-mass stars and in the case of low-mass stars when they shed their envelopes in the form of planetary ...view middle of the document...

Until recently, many scientists believed that elements like gold, platinum, and uranium were created in supernova explosions. But a recent cosmic event has shed new light on the theory of heavy element formation. In June of 2013, almost four billion light years away from Earth, two very dense neutron stars collided providing scientists with more insight into the process. The collision sent a powerful burst of gamma-rays through the universe and subsequent analyses of the event shows that the collision of neutron stars is the impetus for heavy element formation. Neutron stars collide when the two stars in a binary system explode separately as supernovas and then collapse on themselves, resulting in a pair of bonded neutron stars that are pulled together by gravitational forces eventually resulting in a powerful collision. The collision accumulates so much mass in one place that it catalyzes a black hole, but some matter including heavy elements is thrown free and integrated into a new generation of stars and planets (Stromberg, 2013).
Stars that experience an abrupt increase in brightness intensity and then return to their original luminosity are called novas. They occur when the more massive star in a binary system evolves faster than the other star and becomes a white dwarf. Some of the hydrogen-rich outer layer of the less massive star is pulled into the atmosphere of the white dwarf where it accumulates. The intense gravity and heat of the white dwarf make conditions ripe for the fusion of hydrogen into helium and when a sufficient amount of hydrogen is amassed it explodes in a fusion reaction (Sometimes the final stages, n.d.). Type I Supernovas are similar to novas in their composition and light curves, but are lacking in hydrogen. They occur when white dwarfs gather so much mass from its companion star that it collapses and explodes as its carbon ignites. A Type I Supernova is called a carbon-detonation supernova. Stars can become supernovas just once because the result is the death of the star, but stars can become novas many times during their life span (McMillan, 2011).
Most of a star’s life is spent on the main sequence in the core-hydrogen-burning phase where hydrogen is fused into helium at the core, but after about ten billion years...

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