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The Stars Portal


Image of the Sun, a G-type main-sequence star, the closest to Earth

A star is a luminous spheroid of plasma held together by self-gravity. The nearest star to Earth is the Sun. Many other stars are visible to the naked eye at night; their immense distances from Earth make them appear as fixed points of light. The most prominent stars have been categorised into constellations and asterisms, and many of the brightest stars have proper names. Astronomers have assembled star catalogues that identify the known stars and provide standardized stellar designations. The observable universe contains an estimated 1022 to 1024 stars. Only about 4,000 of these stars are visible to the naked eye—all within the Milky Way galaxy.

A star's life begins with the gravitational collapse of a gaseous nebula of material largely comprising hydrogen, helium, and trace heavier elements. Its total mass mainly determines its evolution and eventual fate. A star shines for most of its active life due to the thermonuclear fusion of hydrogen into helium in its core. This process releases energy that traverses the star's interior and radiates into outer space. At the end of a star's lifetime as a fusor, its core becomes a stellar remnant: a white dwarf, a neutron star, or—if it is sufficiently massive—a black hole.

Stellar nucleosynthesis in stars or their remnants creates almost all naturally occurring chemical elements heavier than lithium. Stellar mass loss or supernova explosions return chemically enriched material to the interstellar medium. These elements are then recycled into new stars. Astronomers can determine stellar properties—including mass, age, metallicity (chemical composition), variability, distance, and motion through space—by carrying out observations of a star's apparent brightness, spectrum, and changes in its position in the sky over time.

Stars can form orbital systems with other astronomical objects, as in planetary systems and star systems with two or more stars. When two such stars orbit closely, their gravitational interaction can significantly impact their evolution. Stars can form part of a much larger gravitationally bound structure, such as a star cluster or a galaxy. (Full article...)

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Canopus taken from the ISS.
Canopus taken from the ISS.
Photo credit: NASA

Canopus (/kəˈnpəs/; α Car, α Carinae, Alpha Carinae) is the brightest star in the southern constellation of Carina, and the second brightest star in the night-time sky, after Sirius. Canopus's visual magnitude is −0.72, and it has an absolute magnitude of −5.65.

Canopus is a supergiant of spectral type F. Canopus is essentially white when seen with the naked eye (although F-type stars are sometimes listed as "yellowish-white"). It is located in the far southern sky, at a declination of −52° 42' (2000) and a right ascension of 06h24.0m. Its name comes from the mythological Canopus, who was a navigator for Menelaus, king of Sparta.

Canopus is the most intrinsically bright star within approximately 700 light years, and it has been the brightest star in Earth's sky during three different epochs over the past four million years. Other stars appear brighter only during relatively temporary periods, during which they are passing the Solar System at a much closer distance than Canopus. About 90,000 years ago, Sirius moved close enough that it became brighter than Canopus, and that will remain the case for another 210,000 years. But in 480,000 years, Canopus will once again be the brightest, and will remain so for a period of about 510,000 years.

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Solar flare
Solar flare
Photo credit: JAXA/NASA

A solar flare is a large explosion in the Sun's atmosphere that can release as much as 6 × 1025 joules of energy. The term is also used to refer to similar phenomena in other stars, where the term stellar flare applies.

Solar flares affect all layers of the solar atmosphere (photosphere, corona, and chromosphere), heating plasma to tens of millions of kelvins and accelerating electrons, protons, and heavier ions to near the speed of light. They produce radiation across the electromagnetic spectrum at all wavelengths, from radio waves to gamma rays. Most flares occur in active regions around sunspots, where intense magnetic fields penetrate the photosphere to link the corona to the solar interior. Flares are powered by the sudden (timescales of minutes to tens of minutes) release of magnetic energy stored in the corona. If a solar flare is exceptionally powerful, it can cause coronal mass ejections.

X-rays and UV radiation emitted by solar flares can affect Earth's ionosphere and disrupt long-range radio communications. Direct radio emission at decimetric wavelengths may disturb operation of radars and other devices operating at these frequencies.

Solar flares were first observed on the Sun by Richard Christopher Carrington and independently by Richard Hodgson in 1859 as localized visible brightenings of small areas within a sunspot group. Stellar flares have also been observed on a variety of other stars.

The frequency of occurrence of solar flares varies, from several per day when the Sun is particularly "active" to less than one each week when the Sun is "quiet". Large flares are less frequent than smaller ones. Solar activity varies with an 11-year cycle (the solar cycle). At the peak of the cycle there are typically more sunspots on the Sun, and hence more solar flares.

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IAU Virgo chart
IAU Virgo chart

Virgo is one of the constellations of the zodiac. Its name is Latin for virgin. Lying between Leo to the west and Libra to the east, it is the second largest constellation in the sky (after Hydra). It can be easily found through its brightest star, Spica.

Did you know?

  • ... the Great Red Spot — a storm on Jupiter that has been going on for 300 years — is so big that dozens of Earths would fit into it?
  • ... that our galaxy is estimated to contain 200-400 billion stars, more than the number of humans that have ever lived?


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An early Baroque artist's rendition of Claudius Ptolemaeus
An early Baroque artist's rendition of Claudius Ptolemaeus
Photo credit: Unknown artist, uploaded by User:Salvatore Ingala

Claudius Ptolemaeus (Greek: Κλαύδιος Πτολεμαῖος Klaúdios Ptolemaîos; c. AD 90 – c. 168), known in English as Ptolemy /ˈtɒləmɪ/, was a Roman citizen of Egypt who wrote in Greek. He was a mathematician, astronomer, geographer, astrologer and a poet of a single epigram in the Greek Anthology. He lived in Egypt under Roman rule, and is believed to have been born in the town of Ptolemais Hermiou in the Thebaid. He died in Alexandria around AD 168.

Ptolemy was the author of several scientific treatises, at least three of which were of continuing importance to later Islamic and European science. The first is the astronomical treatise now known as the Almagest (in Greek, Ἡ Μεγάλη Σύνταξις, "The Great Treatise", originally Μαθηματικὴ Σύνταξις, "Mathematical Treatise"). The second is the Geography, which is a thorough discussion of the geographic knowledge of the Greco-Roman world. The third is the astrological treatise known sometimes in Greek as the Apotelesmatika (Ἀποτελεσματικά), more commonly in Greek as the Tetrabiblos (Τετράβιβλος, "Four Books"), and in Latin as the Quadripartitum (or "Four Books") in which he attempted to adapt horoscopic astrology to the Aristotelian natural philosophy of his day.

In Almagest, considered to be one of the most influential scientific texts of all time, Ptolemy presented his astronomical models in convenient tables, which could be used to compute the future or past position of the planets. The Almagest also contains a star catalogue, which is an appropriated version of a catalogue created by Hipparchus. His Planetary Hypotheses went beyond the mathematical model of the Almagest to present a physical realization of the universe as a set of nested spheres.