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HSC Physics Summary

Ben 2010-present

UNIT #4: Astrophysics

NOTE: Elements, graphics and diagrams used in this summary have been gathered from websites such as Google to
produce a better quality summary for purely personal educational purposes. All copyright rights and responsibilities of
phrases/graphics/diagrams belong to their respective owners.


Annual Parallax

A change in apparent position of a nearby star (angle) with

respect to distant stars as the observers position changes.
The diameter of Earths elliptical orbit is used as the base
line for determining the annual parallax of a star. The
annual parallax of a nearby star (<300ly) is charted against
the position of distant stars, which appear fixed in the
night sky. Positions are charted at 6-month intervals, when
the earth is at opposite sides of its orbit. Annual parallax is
expressed in arc seconds () when the annual parallax is
measured to be 2, the star is 1 parsec away.

Trigonometric parallax is HALF the annual parallax

Trigonometric parallax is used to determine the distance

between earth and stars by constructing a diagram using
half the annual parallax angle in a right-angled triangle:

The perpendicular distance (d) between the star and the
radius of earths orbit (1AU base-line) is given by:

d is distance in parsecs
p is parallax of star in arc-seconds ()

Trigonometric parallax cannot be used to determine the

distance to distant stars (parallax angle is too minute.)

HALF the corresponding angle

subtending at a star when the star is
viewed on two different paths from
earth (6 months apart.) The angle is
measured from the perpendicular to
the sight path:
Parallax Angle (p)

Nearby Star

*logically, the smaller the parallax

angle, the further away the star (pc)

A star less than 300 light years away.

The distance that a star would have to be placed away from
earth in order subtend a parallax angle of 1when lines are
drawn from either side of a 1AU base line (e.g. avg. radius
of earths orbit around the sun)

Parsec (pc)

1pc = 3.26 ly
Light-Year (ly)

The DISTANCE travelled by light in one year

1 ly = 9.5x1015 m
Average distance between the sun & earth (orbital radius)

Astronomical Unit

Limitations of

1 AU = 1.496x108 km
1AU = 1.496x1011 m
63 000 AU = 1 ly
Distant stars have an angle too small to be measured
(smallest measurable angle is approx. p=0.01)
The Atmosphere blurs images, making angle harder to
measure (only stars <100pc away can be measured)
Earths orbit is not completely circular (elliptical)

1. Telescopes
Visible Light



All forms of EMR make up the Electromagnetic Spectrum

All EMR travels at the same speed, c (speed of light), while
different forms of EMR possess different amounts of energy
due to their different frequencies.
EMR with a wavelength between 350-700nm (x10-9 m)
Blue Light (400nm) high freq. / Red Light (700nm) is low
The ability of a telescope to distinguish between two
objects that are close together (e.g. sharpness.) Resolution
is described in terms of the smallest angle between two
points at which the telescope still represents the stars as
two distinct figures. For most large astronomical telescopes
have a limit of resolution of 1 arc minute, meaning that if
two stars subtended an angle of 1 with the telescope, the
telescope will represent the stars are two distinct, separate
stars. (Any angle smaller than the limit of resolution and
the two stars will appear as one blurred mass.)
Resolution depends upon the diameter of the lens/mirror
and the wavelength of the incident light.
Telescopes with poor resolution blur the apparent
boundaries between two close stars making them appear
as one. High-resolution telescopes produce sharp images in
which the two close stars appear distinct and separate.
Diffraction and resolution problems are worse with radio
waves, as they have longer wavelengths than light waves
they are also worse for small apertures (e.g. cameras)
Smaller apertures have less resolving power (blurrier)
Two factors limit a telescopes resolution: aberrations
(imperfections in the mirror/lenses) and diffraction (the
bending of light around objects and through gaps.
The photon-gathering power of a telescope. The sensitivity
is dependent upon the area of the telescopes aperture.
Sensitivity is enhanced by increasing the apertures area
(thereby maximising the number of photons entering the
lens from a source) or exposing the film for a long time
(allows a sustained stream of photons to enter.) To avoid
star trails, the telescope needs to track the star being
observed over a period. Astronomers do not observe any

more, they take pictures, which they then observe.)

Doubling the diameter of a telescopes aperture results in
an increase of sensitivity by a factor of 4.


The ability of a wave to bend its path around corners and narrow
openings. Light passing through telescope apertures diffract,
resulting in an interference pattern where the stars are surrounded
by rings. These interference patterns are the cause of blurriness
and the cause of resolution limits.
Twinkling of stars is caused by changing refractive indexes of the
lights path as gusts gasses, water vapour and dust come between
the observer and the star.

Galileo and the Moon

The first telescopes were thin refracting telescopes which used lenses. Using a telescope,
Galileo made the following astronomical discoveries:
1) The moons surface is not smooth it was punctuated with craters and mountains.
Galileo sketched numerous drawings of the moons surface as seen through a
telescope he also estimated the height of the moon mountains by looking at the
length of the shadows they cast.
2) Sun Spots the sun wasnt perfect but had dark blemishes or spots
3) The phases of Venus Venus had phases, just like the moon
4) Jupiter has 4 moons
5) The planets, sun and moon were not perfect spheres this revelation and that of
sun spots debunked Ptolemys theory that heavenly bodies were flawless

EMR Reaching Earth

While there are many different types of EMR approaching Earth, Earths atmosphere
particularly the ionosphere and stratospheres block much of this harmful radiation. There
are only 3 types of EMR that reach earths surface without being blocked.
Visible Light
Radio Waves
Milimetre Radiation (Between Radio & Infrared)
Atmospheric molecules (e.g. O3 ) are selective in the EMR frequencies that they absorb
this is due to the fact that electrons can only absorb photons of a particular frequency that
energise them sufficiently to jump to a different energy level. Most high-energy /
potentially harmful forms of EMR are blocked by atmospheric molecules. These rays

ionise molecules (transfer their energy to electrons) before they hit the ground. Even in
the visible light spectrum, however, CO2 and water vapour cause absorption lines.
There are, however, many different types of telescopes that are designed to observe the
different types of EMR:

Radio telescopes (e.g. Australian Parkes)

Microwave Telescopes (e.g. COBE Cosmic Background Explorer)
Infra-red Telescope (e.g. ISO Infrared Space Observer)
Visible Telescope
X-ray Telescope (e.g. Chandra X-ray)
UV Telescope
Gamma-ray Telescope (e.g. EGRET)

Note: Only Radio and Visual Telescopes are ground based, all other types are satellites,
above the atmosphere where the EMR is not blocked

Optical Telescopes
There are 2 different types of telescopes:
1) Refracting Telescopes Utilise an objective lens to bend incident parallel

light rays towards a focal point to magnify the image. After passing through a
single lens, however, the image is upside-down.
A Galilean Refracting Telescope has an additional eyepiece lens that inverts the image
(right-way up) and enlarges it.
The advantage of using refracting telescopes is that there is nothing inside the barrel to
obstruct the light. The disadvantages of using refracting lenses are that badly ground
lenses can cause aberrations and reduce precision,
while refraction bends the different colours of light
at different angles resulting in a discoloured image.

2) Reflecting telescopes Have a parabolic mirror at the bottom of the barrel

that focuses the light onto a plane mirror, into which the observer looks from
a side-mounted eyepiece lens.
*Note: Larger, fatter lenses will have a
smaller focal length and will produce the
greatest magnification.

Problems with Ground-based Astronomy

1) Atmospheric Absorption Certain types of EMR are absorbed by molecules
(ionisation) as they pass through earths atmosphere. (e.g. UV rays) Only
radio and optical telescopes are used, as Visual Light and Radio waves are the
only EMR that reach Earths surface. Optical telescopes are placed on
highest mountains to minimise the amount of light absorbed on its journey
through the atmosphere.
2) Atmospheric Distortion Twinkling of stars is caused by atmospheric
turbulence as the light passes through migrating atmospheric cells (layers of
gases and water vapour) with different refractive indexes. Light from the star
is refracted and scattered while passing through these different mediums. To
overcome atmospheric distortion, optical telescopes are built on mountain
tops, where there is less weather fluctuation. Adaptive Optics are also
Unlike optical telescopes, radio telescopes are largely unaffected by
atmospheric cells they can see through clouds. However, optical
telescopes are better at resolving images than Radio telescopes because
light has a shorter wavelength (similar to use of x-rays to determine lattice.)
3) Gravity While building bigger telescopes with wider apertures allow us to
achieve higher resolution images, big heavy telescopes bend and flex under
gravity, reducing the precision and accuracy of astronomical measurements.

Adaptive Optics

Active Optics

A highly sensitive computerised system that is used to

minimise atmospheric distortion caused by atmospheric
cells. High speed cameras continuously sample light from a
nearby reference star, recognising any distortions. It then
compensates for these detected distortions by making tiny
(x10-8m) adjustments to hexagonal mirror plates. This
measuring/adjusting occurs rapidly up to 1000times/sec.
Active optics are utilised to counter the issue of a large,
thick mirror flexing or distorting under gravity. Instead a
series of tesselating hexagonal mirror plates, each
possessing mechanical manoeuvrability, are utilised. This
allows the concavity of the mirror to be altered it is more
lightweight and greater aperture areas can be reached.


Technique that involves linking two distinct telescopes

together so that they act as a single aperture. Does not
increase sensitivity, but improves resolution dramatically,
as there are two or multiple vantage points from which the
star is viewed from all calibrated and synchronised using
computers to attain a greater depth with the images.
Hawaiis Kek 1 and 2 telescopes are linked to achieve a
higher resolution. Mexicos Very Large Array (VLR) is a field
of satellites.

2. Parallax
See definitions for Parallax, Parsec, Light-Year
3. Spectroscopy




May be either continuous or line/band spectra. Line Emission

Spectra is obtained when an element is excited by heating it to
incandescence. The electrons in the atoms jump to higher energy
levels, and re-radiate the energy they posses as they fall to the
ground state at particular discrete frequencies, according to how far
they fall through the shells. Viewing this emission through a
spectroscope reveals the a pattern of coloured lines on a black
background, revealing the particular frequencies emitted by the
atoms, which are indicative of that atoms nature (i.e. whether it has
the fingerprint of hydrogen or helium)
A series of dark bands on a coloured background. These bands
correspond to the frequencies that the atoms absorbed as the
energy passed through them, and are indicative of the jump made
by the electrons up through the energy shells. Each element absorbs
its own unique set of frequencies, which are the same frequencies
that it will produce in an emission spectrum.
Absorption occurs in a hydrogen atom when the electron absorbs an
incoming photon of discrete energy that allows it to jump to a
higher energy shell. Though the electron falls to its ground state
almost instantly, the atoms spherical shape means that the energy
is re-radiated in all directions, meaning that the light of that
particular frequency has a significantly less intensity than the other
frequencies, and hence appears as a darker gap, relative to the
incident light.
The analysis of an objects spectra particularly that of a star to
determine its chemical composition. The absorption spectrum of a

star can be compared to the absorption spectrum of known

elements using correlation methods to ascertain the composition of
the star. From analysing a stars spectrum we can determine its:
1) Surface Temperature
2) Speed of Approach / Retreat (Doppler Effect)
3) Density
4) Chemical Composition

Spectroscopy has made numerous contributions to

astronomy including:
1) Identification of elements in the atmosphere of stars and
2) Detection of invisible astrometric binary partners due to
recognition of the Doppler shift
3) Detection of the expansion of the universe
4) Discovery of the helium in the sun before it was discovered on


Bohrs Model


A device used to illustrate the visual spectrum of a star for

the observer, using either a prism or diffraction grating.
Used to explain spectra emission. When an atomic of hydrogen is
excited by an incoming photon of energy, the electron is energised
and jumps to a higher energy level. The electron then (almost
immediately) falls back to its ground state, releasing the energy it
absorbed as a discrete photon of energy of a particular frequency,
corresponding to a particular wavelength or colour. The falling
electron only emits frequencies that correspond to how far it falls
through the energy shells. Because this happens many times per
second with many billions of atoms, it is assumed that the electrons
fall down in every possible arrangement through the energy levels,
so that a number of different discrete frequencies are released.
Instrument used to photograph a spectrum.
A visual photographic image of a spectrum.
Made into a parallel beam (within spectroscopy)
a.k.a. Quasi-stellar radio source/ Galactic Nucleus -- Distant starlike
source that exhibit strong red-shifts. They emit enormous amounts
of energy especially radio waves.

Emission Spectra
As an object is heated, it changes colour from red, orange, yellow, blue and eventually
white. When viewed through a spectroscope, a continuous spectrum is seen, illustrating all
of the colours in a smooth gradient. As Plancks black body curves show, each object
radiates all of the frequencies in different proportions, according to its heat and
irrespective of its composition.

Absorbtion Spectra

(See Definition)

Spectrometers are devices used to visually observe spectra.

There are two types of spectroscopes: Prism and Diffraction Telescopes -1) Prism Spectroscopes - light from a source passes through a slight and collimated. The
light is the dispersed by a prism, each frequency being refracted by a different amount
(e.g. red bends more than blue)Another lens focuses the coloured pattern onto a
detector or screen (e.g. photographic plate) appearing as a gradient of colours
transitioning from red to blue dark absorption bands become visible where light of
particular frequencies have been absorbed by atoms during the lights journey:

One ERROR associated with prism spectroscopes is that they absorb some of the
radiation. The glass of the prism, for example, absorbs ultraviolet and infrared

2) Diffraction Spectroscope Light from a source passes through a collimator before

striking a reflection grating that disperses and focuses one particular frequency of light
into a photomultiplier. The grating can be rotated to allow the observation of each
individual frequency discretely.

Alternatively, a transmission grating is used to slightly diffract the collimated light

passing through it, so that only a very narrow frequency band strikes the photomultiplier
at any one time. The grating can again be rotated to allow the observer to examine the
intensities of different frequencies. Numerous miniature slits in the diffraction grating
cause interference between the light causes the different wavelengths to spread out into
a spectrum.

Diffraction gratings have better resolving power than Prisms


Stellar Spectra
Astronomical Spectra can be produced from 4 main sources:
1) Stars A stars spectra is directly related to its surface temperature, according to
Plancks black body radiation curves. The spectrum of a star is an absorption
spectrum, which reveals what elements are surrounding the immediate atmosphere
of the star that the EMR has to pass through.
2) Emission Nebulae The heat and light energy emitted by a protostar core strikes the
atoms that are within a nebula cloud (mostly hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen) causing
them to become excited and emit energy of a particular frequency resulting in the
acquirement of an emission spectrum of the gasses surrounding a protostar.
3) Galaxy Spectra Spectrometers gather a blend of different spectra from galaxies, as
they are composed of stars, planets, nebula and quasars. Most galaxies exhibit redshift, indicating their movement away from our planet. Galaxy spectra have
absorbtion bands that indicate the presence of molecular hydrogen, nitrogen,
carbon and silicon, as well as other forms of EMR from the entire spectrum radio
waves and infrared in particular.
4) Quasars Stellar objects that emit massive amounts of all types of spectra (radio
waves, x-rays, light) This allegedly occurs when gas is being swallowed by a black
hole, the gravitational energy being converted to kinetic.

Key Features of Stellar Spectra

A stellar spectrum is the spectrum of EMR emitted by a star. The stars surface temperature
determines the spectral pattern formed hydrogen absorption lines are the dominant type
observed, while calcium and sodium may also be observed. The type of EMR and hence
spectrum produced by a star, however, is independent of its composition. It depends
entirely upon the surface temperature of the star.
To produce a line in the visible spectrum, an electron must be in the 2nd energy level when
it absorbs a photon. Too little energy (low surface temperature) equates to weaker
absorption lines (less electrons are excited sufficiently to absorb the photons.) Too much
energy will ionise the atoms, stripping their electrons and no absorption lines will be visible.
To produce HYDROGEN absorption lines, the stars temperature must be 4 000K-12 000K
To produce HYDROGEN absorption lines, the stars temperature must be 15000K 30000K
The strongest intensity emission from a star will peak in the frequency that corresponds to
the blackbody curve associated with its surface temperature.


From observing the strength (boldness) of the Hydrogen absorption lines, we can ascertain
a stars surface temperature and assign it a spectral class a letter from O, B, A, F, G, K, M.
Each class has 10 divisions (e.g. F4, G5, K9). This can be determined by comparing the stars
emission intensity in each frequency band with other stars of known spectral class or by
comparing the emission intensity to a black body curve and observing in what frequency
the stars emission spectra peaks.
Spectral Class


Temperature (K)


30 000


15 000


10 000









Spectral Features
Strong lines of ionised helium.
Doubly Ionised Oxygen, Nitrogen &
Ionised He, Weak H
Neutral Helium lines more
stronger than on O class.
Neutral He, Weak H
H-lines most prominent. Ionised
Strong H
H-lines are weaker than A class
neutral metals are stronger
Weak H, metals (Ca, Fe)
Lines of ionised calcium are
strongest feature. H-lines are weak.
Lines of many neutral metallic ions
Strong Metals (Ca)
prominent. H-lines virtually nonexistent.
Strong metals (CH and CN)
prominent. Titanium oxide bands
Strong molecules (TiO)


What Spectra Reveals about a Star

1) Structure Emission lines indicate that the stars emission is proceeding unimpeded;
Absorption lines indicate that the star is surrounded by gas that absorbs the EMR.
2) Chemical Composition Comparing stellar spectra with spectra of elements on Earth
with known spectral lines correlating the 2 spectral patterns to determine what
elements are present.
3) Rotational / Translational Velocity The observance of red-shift / blue-shift of a stars
spectral pattern indicates the motion of the star away from / towards Earth. The
displacement of the line from its regular position is an indication of the speed at which
the star is moving away from / toward earth (i.e. greater red-shift means moving away
faster.) The rotational velocity of a star can be determined by pointing a spectrometer
at the approaching or receding end of a star as it spins, and observing the degree to
which red/blue shift occurs. The stars period and hence speed can then be calculated.
4) Density Under the influence of gravity, atoms possess more energy due to the extra
density and gravitational pull of a nearby star. Undisturbed, the atom absorbs emission
as per usual. Dwarf stars, with high density, produce broad absorption lines;
supergiants with less dense atmospheres produce narrow absorption lines.
5) Surface Temperature According to Plancks black body curves, there is a direct link
between the colour of a star and its surface temperature. The dominant wavelength
emitted by a star indicates the stars temperature.

Typical Astronomical Spectra

Stars produce continuous spectra with superimposed absorption lines (appear as divets)
Doppler shift may be identifiable stars are capable of receding from / approaching Earth.
Emission Nebulae Releases light as a dominant frequency almost always characteristic
pink of hydrogen and orange-yellow glow of helium. Gas cloud EMISSION energy of specific
frequency according to the elements present (most hydrogen & helium.) Little Doppler
effect is observable Nebulae rarely move.
Galaxies Continuous spectrum of superimposed ABSORBTION lines of NUMEROUS
elements from different types of stars. Doppler effect is evident galaxies show great red
shift because they are receding from earth a great rate (universe is expanding.) There are a
few spikes corresponding to the most abundant elements in the galaxy (hydrogen, helium.)
Quasars Enormous amounts of EMR EMISSION in all spectrums. Very large Doppler shifts
very far away and moving away at a fast rate. Large emission spikes occur usually
hydrogen excited by enormous energy release from the quasar.


Practical: Using a hand-held Spectroscope

AIM: To observe the spectra of sunlight and that of a sodium vapour lamp using
a hand-held spectroscope.
SAFETY: Do not look directly at the sun- to measure sunlight just look outside
1. Point the hand-held spectroscope outside and look into the lens. A bright
continuous spectra should be observed, showing colours from red to blue.
2. Next, point the spectroscope at a sodium lamp source and observe two
bright orange lines form on the spectra.
RESULTS: A continuous spectrum was visible from sunlight and two distinctly
brighter orange lines were also present in the sodium lamps spectra.
ERRORS: The room was not darkened when viewing the spectra of the sodium
lamp, meaning that other spectra were visible (sunlight was still present.)

4. Photometric Measurements (Absolute Magnitude)

Magnitude (m)

Magnitude (M)
Brightness Ratio

The brightness of a star as it appears from earth.

On a magnitude scale, seemingly BRIGHT stars are ranked
with negative values, while fainter stars are given high
positive values (e.g. ranking system 1st 100th brightest)
Each increase of m by 1.0 corresponds to a decrease in
(e.g. m=1 is 100 times brighter than m=6)
A comparative measure of the amount of light a star emits
(a measure of the stars true luminosity.) The absolute
magnitude would be the apparent magnitude of the star if
all stars were placed at a distance of 10 parsecs from earth
so that the only factor affecting their brightness is their
size. The most negative values equate to the brightest stars.
The amount of light energy radiated by a luminous object.
The intrinsic brightness of a star. (i.e. Absolute magnitude)
How many times brighter one star is in comparison to
another star.


The value of m M of a star (difference between apparent

and absolute brightness)
Measuring the apparent magnitude in two different colours
(Blue / Yellow) allows one to find the Colour Index which is
Colour Index
associated with a particular spectral class (proportional to
(B V)
temperature) C.I. ranges from 0.6 to +2.0 (bluered)
Hence C.I. may be considered a measure of a stars redness
(white stars have a C.I. = 0)
The magnitude of a star measured by a photographic plate
or blue filter, which is more sensitive to short-wavelength
light (400nm / more BLUE light) Blue stars hence appear
Magnitude (B)
brighter (lower magnitude) upon a photographic plate.
Yellow-sensitive film is used to obtain photographic
The magnitude of a star measured by the human eye or a
Visual Magnitude
yellow-green filter, which is more sensitive to long(V)
wavelength light (550nm / yellow-green)

Distance modulus

The brightness ratio of 2 stars is equal to 2.512 to the power of the magnitude difference:

= 2.512m2 m1

I1/2 = brightness of star 1/2

m1/2 = magnitude of star 1/2

*The ratio is an expression of how many times brighter the top star is than the bottom
star (i.e. a ratio of 1.5 means that I1 is 1.5x brighter than I2 ) star 1 compared to star 2
The same formula can also be applied to determine the absolute magnitude ratio by
replacing m2 and m1 with M2 and M1 :

= 2.512M2 M1

I1/2 = absolute brightness of star

M1/2 = absolute magnitude of star 1/2

If a star is exactly 10 parsecs away: absolute brightness = apparent brightness

If a star is closer than 10 parsecs away, it is apparently brighter than its absolute
brightness. Since low integers equate to high brightness (numerical ranking)
apparent brightness < absolute brightness
(the star needs to be pushed away to 10pc, numerically increasing its brightness rank to its
absolute rank [e.g. from -1 6] )


If a star is further than 10 parsecs away, its apparent brightness > absolute brightness
(the star needs to be pulled closer to 10pc, decreasing its brightness value to its absolute
[e.g. brightness 6 -1] )
Rearranging the formulas that are used to determine apparent and absolute brightness, we
can formulate an equation that expresses the difference in apparent and absolute
magnitude of a single star in terms of distance of the star from earth:


m = apparent brightness of star

M = absolute brightness of star
D = distance of star from Earth in parsecs (pc)

PRACTICAL: Filters and Photometric Measurements

1. Each student provided with TWO PHOTOGRAPHS of the star cluster M67; one taken with
a YELLOW FILTER (VISUAL) and the other with a BLUE FILTER.
2. Particular stars in the cluster were labelled A-P, and a plastic overlay with a reference
scale was used to assign an apparent magnitude value to each star in each photograph
3. This data was tabulated in a table similar to that below:
4. The results were then graphed with Visual Magnitude (V) on the vertical axis and Colour
Index (B-V) on the horizontal Axis.

Photoelectric Photometry vs. Photographic Photometry

Photometry is a method by which the brightness of a star is ascertained. An
apparent luminosity value or rank can be assigned to each star using two
methods (though the latter is more accurate):


A measurement of the apparent luminosity of a star based

upon visual comparisons of star images on photographic
This method is less accurate because there is an element of
error when determining visually from an image. The stars
brightness also cannot be calibrated, because of the


Light from a star is captured by a photomultiplier, that

converts the weak light signal into a strong electric current.
Photons of light enter through a thin glass window into an
excavated tube, striking a photocathode. Photoelectrons
are emitted as per the photoelectric affect and an applied
(Photoelectric effect
photomultiplier, bouncing off dynodes as it goes. The
to calculate the
apparent magnitude) output pulse is a measurable current proportional to the
light input.
The fast response and proportional nature of the current
makes it an effective detector of starlight.
(e.g. Accuracy + Sensitivity)
5. Binary Stars
Binary Star

A stellar system in which two stars orbit around each other.

(e.g. Alpha Centauri)

There are 4 types of Binary Stars:

Visual Binary


Two stars that can be resolved with the naked eye or

through the use of a telescope.
A star that appears to regularly wobble the star has an
invisible partner that is exerting a gravitational pull upon
the star, causing it to wobble about its centre of mass.
Used as evidence for black holes.
These stars cannot be resolved visually. Using a
spectroscope, such binary stars demonstrate red shift
(moving away) or blue shift (moving closer) as per the
Doppler effect. (This is because the star in orbit is moving away
from us or towards us, and its spectral lines hence appear shifted to
either the red or blue end of the spectrum. This can only be
observed when the star is moving away or towards the observer,
not when the star is moving across the observers vision.) The star

needs to be observed over a sustained period so that the

shifting can be confirmed as occurring at regular intervals.
(The size of the gap between a spectral lines normal and
red shifted position indicates the speed at which the star is
moving away.)


When the orbital plane of the binary system is edge-on, the

observer will observe changes in light intensity as one of
the stars eclipses the other. This is only considered in the
context of visual binaries. When the light intensity of the
star is plotted as a function of time, the intensity is at its
maximum as both stars are visible, then decreases greatly
as the brightest star eclipses the other. Then full brightness
is restored before brightness decreases slightly when the
brighter star partially eclipses the other.
(Square dips in the graph indicate that the system is
completely edge-on and total eclipses are occurring.
Eclipsing Binary

Curved dips indicate partial eclipses when the orbiting

system both stars are at least partially visible at all times.)

Importance of Binary Stars for Determining Stellar Masses

Astronomers need to determine the mass of a star to better understand its spectral class
and chemical composition. Because binary systems are held together by gravity, which acts
a centripetal force towards a common centre of mass, the mass of a binary system can be
calculated if the orbital period and distance of separation is known. This is because the
stars within a binary system have to obey Keplers 3rd Law:


Rearranging this formula, and splitting the total mass of the system (M) into m1 + m2

M = m1 + m 2 =

r is STAR SEPARATION (metres between stars 1 and 2)

m1/2 is the mass of star (kg)
M is the total mass of the system (kg)
T is the orbital period of the binary second (seconds)

Employing these calculations, however, lend themselves to numerous errors:

Simplified formula to assume perfectly circular orbit (orbit is actually elliptical)
Measurements do not have a great degree of accuracy (only calculates powers of 10)

A star thats brightness alters periodically over time due to

Variable Star
the influence of an internal factor (intrinsic) or external
factor (extrinsic)
A star that displays regular or irregular changes in
Intrinsic Variable brightness due to some change within itself.
(e.g. Nova, chemical composition, pulsating star)
A star with varying brightness caused by some external
Extrinsic Variable factor (e.g. astrometric binary wobble due to invisible
Variable star whose brightness alters in a regular, repeated
pattern over time. Cepheids are examples of periodic
intrinsic variables that have varying luminosity as they
expand and contract in a regular pattern due to their own
gravitational and chemical forces. Most extrinsic variables
occur periodically.
The brightness of non-periodic variables alters irregularly
with time. Nova and supernova are examples they are
eruptive variables that exhibit no regular pattern in their
varying brightness as they collapse.


Cepeid Variables are intrinsic, periodic variables that have varying luminosity
as they expand and contract in a regular pattern due to their own gravitational
and chemical forces. This regular change in brightness is due to the changing
surface temperature of the star, which becomes hotter as it contracts (denser =
more kinetic energy) and cooler as it expands (bigger = more gravity.)

The period of a Cepheid variable is related to its average luminosity (periodluminosity relationship) Cepheids with a longer period (60 days max) are more
luminous (i.e. lower luminosity value) than those with shorter periods (2 days
min) Many Cepheids are present in the Small and Large Magellanic Clouds.

This means that the luminosity of a star can be ascertained if the stars period of
variation (the time taken in seconds for the brightness pattern to perform a
complete cycle) is known. Once the luminosity of the star is determined through
the use of a luminosity-period graph (above), the luminosity can be compared
to the apparent brightness in order to calculate the distance to the Cepheid:


Understanding the period-luminosity relationship allows astronomers to

calculate the distances to distant galaxies containing Cepheids by examining
their period, calculating their luminosity, calculating the distance modulus using


the apparent brightness and hence calculating the distance using the above
equation. This method has been instrumental in astronomers exploration of the
2nd Hand Data: Impact of technology on Astronomy
The development of electronic data collection, storage and computation
technology has greatly improved the efficiency and accuracy with which
astronomers perform their observations.
Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE); Chandra X-ray Telescope; Hubble Space
Telescope; etc;
Practical: Computer Simulation of Eclipsing Binaries
An online applet was used to simulate the motion and corresponding apparent
brightness of eclipsing binary systems when observed from different angles. Many of the
intrinsic and extrinsic factors influencing the system could be altered, and the effects
upon the apparent brightness observed.

+ Allows us to observe a simplified model of a binary system from different angles
+ Allows us to manipulate intrinsic and extrinsic factors that influence the stars apparent
brightness (orbital radius, surface temperature, size, density, star radius etc;)
+ Provides a luminosity-period graph that illustrates how the brightness varies periodically
over time (curved for partial overlap + square graphs for complete overlap)

- Simplification of the model: represents circular orbit, not elliptical
- Does not account for how the luminosity is calculated from the period (circumvents


6. Life Cycle of Stars

Planetary Nebula

Main Sequence

Massive cloud of dust and Hydrogen ions, atoms and molecules.

Planetary nebula may be dark or bright if illuminated by a protostar
from within. Massive planetary nebula, containing more material,
form larger stars (blue giants.) Planetary nebula are the remnants of
previous stars gone nova.
A dust cloud with a hot, dense core that illuminates the surrounding
dust particles, making the entire system appear luminous and
A star with varying brightness caused by some external factor (e.g.
astrometric binary wobble due to invisible partner)
A 3-step reaction occurring in main sequence stars cooler than Sol:

p-p reaction

C.N.O reaction



Helium Flash
Blue Main
Sequence Stars

Faster reaction undergone by large main sequence stars another

reaction that fuses Hydrogen to produce Helium that uses higher
activation energy. Carbon is present as a catalyst that speeds the
reaction partial contributor to the short lifespan of main sequence
A protostar forms when the gas and dust in a planetary nebula
congeal on a centre of mass. This core grows due to accretion,
becoming denser and converting the GPE of the system into KE. The
system becomes a protostar when the GPE balances the KE of the
core. The protostars bright core usually illuminates the nebula as it
continues to contract and grow hotter. A protostar behaves like a
non-periodic intrinsic variable, plotted in the top-right of the H-R
diagram due to its size. When the cores temperature reaches
8millionoK, fusion reactions begin and the ZAMs stabilises.
The name given to our own G2, yellow-coloured, medium-sized sun.
It has a luminosity of 1, to which all of the other stars are assigned
comparative luminosity values.
Large stars transition slowly from main sequence red giants.
Smaller main sequence stars, however, experience a sudden onset
of helium fusion as they transition rapidly to red giants, resulting in
a Helium Flash.
Possess 30x as much fuel as our sun and are 10,000x as luminous.
They only survive a few million years due to their quick decay. There
are no old blue stars. Large stars have an abundance of Hydrogen.


Yellow Main
Sequence Star
Red main
Sequence Stars
(red dwarfs)
Positron Decay
Stellar Wind

A star like our sun lasts 10 billion years. Appear brighter from earth
as the human eye is more sensitive to yellow light than blue light.
Possess much less fuel than our sun and use it very slowly. They
have lifetimes 100s of billions of years. (90% of main sequence stars
are old red dwarfs that have not yet expired due to coolness)
A type of radiation decay in which an atom loses a positively
charged electron, a neutrino and energy. The product is an atom of
the same atomic weight with one less atomic number (proton.)
Zero Age Main Sequence when a protostar reaches 8million oK
Phenomenon causing the collapse of massive stars.
A stream of radiated energy and fast particles emitted from a star.

Stellar Formation
Dust particles within a planetary nebula, heated by solar winds, begin to congeal due to
attractive forces between the minute particles
The surrounding dust particles converge upon an exponentially growing core. The
energy possessed at this stage is in the form of gravitational potential energy (GPE)
Gravity causes the cold (no kinetic energy) dust cloud to collapse upon the core,
generating heat (GPE Kinetic Energy) The surrounding dust cloud absorbs energy
from the mass (thermal, EMR) and radiates it into space, aiding the contraction.
(Massive protostars form more rapidly than small stars heat increases reaction rate)
The star continues to collapse until a balance is attained between the radiation pressure
and gravity it is now named a protostar. The time taken to progress to this stage is
about 1 million years. The surrounding nebula cloud is dispersed by stellar winds
produced by the protostar, preventing additional matter adding to the star.
At this stage, due to its low heat and density, the mass appears red-giant-like: bright,
cool and not dense. The protostar is not undergoing nuclear reactions, but is behaving as
a bright, non-periodic intrinsic variable star.
Because the kinetic/heat energy within the star is insufficient to counter the inward
contraction of gravity, the star continues to contract, becoming less luminous but also
hotter and denser. The surrounding planetary nebula (dust cloud) also spins faster with
the steadily-heating star. Dust particles converge quickly into masses which become
stars, which fragment to form orbiting planets solar systems are formed.
When the core temperature reaches 8 million oK, it begins fusing Hydrogen to Helium
becoming a ZAMS Zero Age Main Sequence Star


The ZAMS quickly stabilises when a balance is attained between gravity (which
condenses and heats the star) and internal fusion reactions (which push outward and
prevent further contraction.) To progress to this stage for a star of 1 solar mass usually
takes about 50 million years.

Key Stages of a Stars Life

1. Material in a planetary nebula congeals and collapses into a core due to
gravitational attraction, forming a hot core of matter. This luminous core
lights up the surrounding dust cloud. The luminous cloud with its hot core is
known as a protostar. The increasing density and heat of the core generates
stellar winds that prevent the addition of matter. The core itself appears red
giant-like, being large, red and cool. The star continues to contract slowly,
becoming hotter and more dense.
2. Once the core temperature reaches 8 million, the star begins fusing Hydrogen to Helium
becoming a ZAMS Zero Age Main Sequence Star. Where the ZAMS enters the main
sequence is dependent upon its mass. The ZAMS quickly stabilises when a balance is
attained between gravity (which condenses and heats the star) and internal fusion
reactions (which push outward and prevent further contraction.) The surrounding
nebula cloud is dispersed by stellar winds produced by the main sequence, preventing
additional matter adding to the star.

3. The main sequence may be a large, hot blue star if it was formed from a large nebula, or
a cool, small yellow-red main sequence star like our own sun. 90% of a stars lifespan is
spent as a main sequence, undergoing hydrogen fusion. The star only consumes 15% of
its Hydrogen reserves before nova, bequeathing hydrogen for the daughter stars to fuse.
The mass of the star determines the position in which it enters the main sequence. All
main sequence stars migrate slightly along the main sequence throughout the duration
of their existence, becoming slightly brighter and hotter towards the end of their life as a
main sequence star. Large, hot blue stars have a shorter lifespan than small, yellow-red


4. Once the stars helium content reaches 12%, fusion of Hydrogen ceases. Without the
outward push of the hydrogen fusion reaction, the star collapses, becoming much hotter
and denser. This induces Helium fusion, the energy of which pushes the surface of the
star outwards causing the star to expand to a large, cool star known as a red giant.
Large main sequence stars may become a supergiant. There are no old blue stars, as
blue is an indicator of extremely high temperatures which equate to a rapid rate of
5. A stars life ends when it exhausts is fuel and is unable to fuse any lighter elements to
form heavier ones. The fusion reactions cease and the star collapses under its own
gravity, an event known as Nova. The nova of small stars forms white dwarfs, small, hot
dense stars that are the remnants of the stars core. They are luminous due to the
kinetic energy they still possess after nova. Larger stars go supernova, becoming a
super-dense pulsar star or a black hole.
Blue Main Sequence Stars

Star Fuel Reactions

There are 2 main reactions that occur within a main sequence star, depending on its size:
Proton-proton chain reaction: P-p reactions are the dominant type of reaction within
smaller, cooler main sequence stars like our own sun. P-p reactions require lower activation
energy to proceed. P-p reactions fuse 4 hydrogen nuclei (protons) into helium in 3 steps:
1) Two H-atoms (protons) combine to produce Heavy Hydrogen (deuterium) nucleus a
positron (positively charged electron), a neutrino (v) and energy are also released.
2) Heavy hydrogen fuses with another hydrogen atom to produce a neutron-deficient
Helium atom gamma radiation and energy are also released
3) Two of the neutron-deficient Helium atoms fuse together to form a stable Helium
atom, 2 Hydrogen nucleuses (protons) and energy.

Carbon-Nitrogen-Oxygen Reaction (CNO): CNO reactions dominate within large, hot, blue
main sequence stars, plotted on the left of the HR-Diagram. This reaction has a much higher
activation energy, but still accomplishes the production of Helium from the fusion of
Hydrogen. Carbon atoms are present as catalysts for the 6-step reaction:


The CNO reaction is much faster than the p-p reaction, causing the hotter, larger blue stars
to expire faster. This is also why the CNO reaction releases heat faster.
The core Helium content reaches 15%, the star transitions to a red giant or supergiant and
begins undergoing Triple-alpha reactions to fuse Helium into heavier elements (such as
carbon and iron.) Three helium atoms combine to form Carbon, and Carbon and Helium
atoms combine to form oxygen:
3 4He2 12C6 + gamma + energy

Star Clusters
Depending on their age, star clusters may be either open star clusters or globular clusters:
Open Star Clusters are NEWCLUSTERS they have no red giants or white dwarfs in
them. The stars of open clusters are just babies all main sequence stars. (e.g. Pleiades)
Globular Clusters are OLD CLUSTERS - typically globe shaped with millions of distant
suns. Many older stars red giants and white dwarfs are present, because hotter,
bluer stars age faster than the cooler main sequence stars. (e.g. Omega Centauri)
Visually, a globular cluster appears as a blot of light at the centre, that disperses as it
moves out.
Hotter, larger stars age quicker they use up their fuel faster and progress through their life
stages quicker.

Determining the Age of a Star using H-R Diagrams

The age of a star can be determined by examining the cluster of which it is part:
All the stars in a cluster are about the same age and distance
Open Clusters are young, sparse clusters consisting of a few hundred loosely bound
stars. Open cluster stars have spectra that reveal and abundance of metals.
Globular clusters contain hundreds of thousands of stars bound together in a rough
sphere. Globular clusters have a fewer metallic spectral lines.
The metal abundance of a cluster is an indicator of its age.


Open Cluster
MB type stars occupy the main sequence
(most of the stars are main sequence)
No Red Giants / White Dwarfs
Stellar masses > 0.1M

Globular Cluster
Only the lower portion of the main sequence
is present (cooler stars age slower)
Many red giants / White dwarfs / highly
luminous, large stars
All stellar masses <0.8M

In open clusters, young, hot stars occupy the main sequence.

Larger stars have a shorter incubation period take less time to form
Stars greater than 8 solar masses go onto form other heavier elements until Fe is formed

Star Death
A star dies when fusion reactions in the core cease and the outward pressure of radiation is
insufficient to balance the compression of gravity.
Stars of comparable size to our sun (1-5 solar masses) undergo the following death:
Once the red giant stage has ended, the star unleashes numerous bursts of luminosity
as it disperses layers of its atmosphere. These gases ejected from the star appear as
rings known as planetary nebula, from which new stars form.
The core collapses into a white dwarf heat and energy condensed into a small, dense
mass that still possesses kinetic energy to keep it spinning. It cools very slowly due to its
small surface area.
Massive stars (5-8 solar masses) undergo the following death:
Supergiant star has fused lots of lighter elements into heavier ones, the heaviest being
Iron. The core collapses catastrophically, increasing the brightness of the star
dramatically in its supernova stage.
A neutron star forms if the star was 1.4 solar masses +
More massive stars form black holes