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Stellar classification

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In astronomy, stellar classification is a classification of stars based initially on photospheric temperature and its associated spectral characteristics, and subsequently refined in terms of other characteristics. Stellar temperatures can be classified by using Wien's displacement law, but this poses difficulties for distant stars. Stellar spectroscopy offers a way to classify stars according to their absorption lines; particular absorption lines can be observed only for a certain range of temperatures because only in that range are the involved atomic energy levels populated. An early scheme (from the 19th century) ranked stars from A to Q, which is the origin of the currently used spectral classes.

1 Secchi classes 2 Harvard spectral classification 2.1 Conventional and apparent colors 3 Yerkes spectral classification 4 Spectral types 4.1 Class O 4.2 Class B 4.3 Class A 4.4 Class F 4.5 Class G 4.6 Class K 4.7 Class M 5 Extended spectral types 5.1 Hot blue emission star classes


5.1.1 Class W: Wolf-Rayet 5.1.2 Classes OC, ON, BC, BN: Wolf-Rayet related O and B stars 5.1.3 The "class" OB

5.2 Cool red and brown dwarf classes

5.2.1 Class L


5.2.2 Class T: methane dwarfs 5.2.3 Class Y

5.3 Carbon related late giant star classes


5.3.1 Class C: carbon stars 5.3.2 Class S 5.3.3 Classes MS and SC: intermediary carbon related classes

5.4 White dwarf classifications 5.5 Non-stellar spectral types: Class P & Q 6 Spectral peculiarities 7 Photometric classification 8 See also 9 References 10 External links


Secchi classes

During the 1860s and 1870s, pioneering stellar spectroscopist Father Angelo Secchi created the Secchi classes in order to classify observed spectra. By 1868, he had developed four classes of stars:[1][2][3] Class I: white and blue stars with broad heavy hydrogen lines (modern class A) Class II: yellow starshydrogen less strong, but evident metallic lines (modern classes G and K) Class III: orange to red stars with complex band spectra (modern class M) Class IV: red stars with significant carbon bands and lines (carbon stars) In 1878, he added a fifth class:[1] Class V: emission lines (e.g., Be, Bf, etc.) In the late 1890s, this classification was superseded by the Harvard classification, which is discussed in the remainder of this article.[4][5] [edit]

Harvard spectral classification

Harvard one-dimensional (temperature) classification scheme (based on hydrogen Balmer line strengths) was developed in Harvard College Observatory at about 1912 by Annie Jump Cannon and Edward C. Pickering.[6] The common classes are

normally listed from hottest to coldest (with mass, radius and luminosity compared to the Sun) and are given in the following table.
% of all Mass Radius Hydrogen Main (solar (solar Luminosity lines Sequence masses) radii) [9] Stars

Conventional Apparent Class Temperature color color[7][8]

30,000 60,000 K



60 M

15 R

1,400,000 L



10,000 30,000 K

blue white

blue white 18 M to white


20,000 L



7,500 10,000 K



3.1 M

2.1 R

80 L



6,000 7,500 K

yellowish white


1.7 M

1.3 R




5,000 6,000 K



1.1 M

1.1 R

1.2 L



3,500 5,000 K


yellow orange

0.8 M

0.9 R

0.4 L

Very weak 13%

2,000 3,500 K


orange red

0.3 M

0.4 R

0.04 L

Very weak >78%

Hertzsprung-Russell diagram

The mass, radius, and luminosity listed for each class are appropriate only for stars on the main sequence portion of their lives and so are not appropriate for red giants. A popular mnemonic for remembering the order is "Oh Be A Fine Girl, Kiss Me" (there are many variants of this mnemonic). The Hertzsprung-Russell diagram relates stellar classification with absolute magnitude, luminosity, and surface temperature. The reason for the odd arrangement of letters is historical. When people first started taking spectra of stars, they noticed that stars had very different hydrogen spectral lines strengths, and so they classified stars based on the strength of the hydrogen Balmer series lines from A (strongest) to Q (weakest). Other lines of neutral and ionized species then came into play (H and K lines of calcium, sodium D lines, etc). Later it was found that some of the classes were actually duplicates and those classes were removed. It was only much later that it was discovered that the strength of the hydrogen line was connected with the surface temperature of the star. The basic work was done by the "girls" of Harvard College Observatory, primarily Annie Jump Cannon, Henrietta Swan Leavitt and Antonia Maury, based on the work of Williamina Fleming. In the 1920s, the Indian physicist Megh Nad Saha derived a theory of ionization by extending well-known ideas in physical chemistry pertaining to the dissociation of molecules to the ionization of atoms. First applied to

the solar chromosphere, he then applied it to stellar spectra.[10] The Harvard astronomer Cecilia Helena Payne (later to become Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin) then demonstrated that the OBAFGKM spectral sequence is actually a sequence in temperature.[11] Spectral classes are further subdivided by Arabic numerals (09). For example, A0 denotes the hottest stars in the A class and A9 denotes the coolest ones. Because the classification sequence predates our understanding that it is a temperature sequence, the precise values of these digits depend upon (largely subjective) estimates of the strengths of absorption features in stellar spectra. As a result, the subclasses are not evenly divided into any sort of mathematically representable intervals. The Sun is classified as G2. O, B, and A stars are sometimes misleadingly called "early type", while K and M stars are said to be "late type". This stems from an early 20th century theory, now obsolete, that stars start their lives as very hot "early type" stars, and then gradually cool down, thereby evolving into "late type" stars. We now know that this theory is entirely wrong (see: stellar evolution). However, brown dwarfs, whose energy comes from gravitational attraction alone, cool as they age and so progress to later spectral types. The highest mass brown dwarfs start their lives with M-type spectra and will cool through the L, T, and Y spectral classes. [edit]

Conventional and apparent colors

The Conventional color descriptions are traditional in astronomy, and represent colors relative to Vega, a star that is perceived as white under naked eye observational conditions, but which magnified appears as blue. The Apparent color[7] descriptions is what the observer would see if trying to describe the stars under a dark sky without aid to the eye, or with binoculars. The table colors used, are D65 standard colors, which are what you would see if the star light would be magnified to be filling non-dazzlingly bright areas. [12] Most stars in the sky, except the brightest ones, appear white or bluish white to the unaided eye because they are too dim for color vision to work. Our Sun itself is white. It is sometimes called a yellow star (spectroscopically, relative to Vega), and may appear yellow or red (viewed through the atmosphere), or appear white (viewed when too bright for the eye to see any color). Astronomy images often use a variety of exaggerated colors (partially founded in faint light conditions observations, partially in conventions). But the Sun's own intrinsic color is

white (aside from sunspots), with no trace of color, and closely approximates a black body of 5780 K (see color temperature). This is a natural consequence of the evolution of our optical senses: the response curve that maximizes the overall efficiency against solar illumination will by definition perceive the Sun as white. [edit]

Yerkes spectral classification

The Yerkes spectral classification, also called the MKK system from the authors' initials, is a system of stellar spectral classification introduced in 1943 by William Wilson Morgan, Phillip C. Keenan and Edith Kellman from Yerkes Observatory.[13] This classification is based on spectral lines sensitive to stellar surface gravity which is related to luminosity, as opposed to the Harvard classification which is based on surface temperature. Later, in 1953, after some revisions of list of standard stars and classification criteria, the scheme was named MK (by William Wilson Morgan and Phillip C. Keenan initials).[14] Since the radius of a giant star is much larger than a dwarf star while their masses are roughly comparable, the gravity and thus the gas density and pressure on the surface of a giant star are much lower than for a dwarf. These differences manifest themselves in the form of luminosity effects which affect both the width and the intensity of spectral lines which can then be measured. Denser stars with higher surface gravity will exhibit greater pressure broadening of spectral lines. A number of different luminosity classes are distinguished:

Hertzsprung-Russell Diagram

Spectral Type
Brown dwarfs White dwarfs Red dwarfs Subdwarfs "Dwarfs" Main sequence Subgiants Giants Bright Giants Supergiants Hypergiants absolute magnitude

(MV) I supergiants Ia-0 (hypergiants or extremely luminous supergiants (later addition), Example: Eta Carinae (spectrum-peculiar) Ia (luminous supergiants), Example: Deneb (spectrum is A2Ia) Iab (intermediate luminous supergiants) Ib (less luminous supergiants), Example: Betelgeuse (spectrum is M2Ib) II bright giants IIa, Example: Scuti (HD 173764) (spectrum is G4 IIa) IIab Example: HR 8752 (spectrum is G0Iab:) IIb, Example: HR 6902 (spectrum is G9 IIb) III normal giants IIIa, Example: IIIab Example: IV subgiants IVa, Example: Reticuli (spectrum is K1-2 IVa-III) IVb, Example: HR 672 A (spectrum is G0.5 IVb) V main sequence stars (dwarfs) Va, Example: AD Leonis (spectrum M4Vae) Vb, Example: 85 Pegasi A (spectrum G5 Vb) VI subdwarfs (rarely used) VII white dwarfs (rarely used) Marginal cases are allowed; for instance a star classified as Ia0-Ia would be a very luminous supergiant, verging on hypergiant. Examples are below. The spectral type of the star are not a factor.
Marginal Symbols Example Explanation

Persei (spectrum is M4 IIIa) Reticuli (spectrum is M2 IIIab)

IIIb, Example: Pollux (spectrum is K2 IIIb)


The star is between super giant and bright giant.

O9.5 Ia+ The star is a hypergiant star.

M2 IV/V The star is either a subgiant or a dwarf star.


Spectral types

The following illustration represents star classes with the colors very close to those actually perceived by the human eye. The relative sizes are for main sequence or "dwarf" stars.
The Morgan-Keenan spectral classification


Class O

Class O stars are very hot and very luminous, being bluish in color; in fact, most of their output is in the ultraviolet range. These are the rarest of all main sequence stars, constituting as few as 1 in 3,000,000 in the solar neighborhood (Note: these proportions are fractions of stars brighter than absolute magnitude 16; lowering this limit will render earlier types even rarer while generally adding only to the M class).[9] O-stars shine with a power over a million times our Sun's output. These stars have dominant lines of absorption and sometimes emission for He II lines, prominent ionized (Si IV, O III, N III, and C III) and neutral helium lines, strengthening from O5 to O9, and prominent hydrogen Balmer lines, although not as strong as in later types. Because they are so huge, class O stars burn through their hydrogen fuel very quickly, and are the first stars to leave the main sequence. Recent observations by the Spitzer Space Telescope indicate that planetary formation does not occur around other stars in the vicinity of an O class star due to the photoevaporation effect.[15] Examples: Zeta Orionis, Zeta Puppis, Lambda Orionis, Delta Orionis [edit]

Class B

The Pleiades open star cluster with many bright B stars

Class B stars are extremely luminous and blue. Their spectra have neutral helium, which are most prominent at the B2 subclass, and moderate hydrogen lines. Ionized metal lines include Mg II and Si II. As O and B stars are so powerful, they only live for a very short time, and thus they do not stray far from the area in which they were formed. These stars tend to cluster together in what are called OB associations, which are associated with giant molecular clouds. The Orion OB1 association occupies a large portion of a spiral arm of our galaxy and contains many of the brighter stars of the constellation Orion. They constitute about 1 in 800 main sequence stars in the solar neighborhood[9] rare, but much more common than those of class O. Examples: Rigel, Spica, the brighter Pleiades [edit]

Class A

Class A stars are amongst the more common naked eye stars, and are white or bluish-white. They have strong hydrogen lines, at a maximum by A0, and also lines of ionized metals (Fe II, Mg II, Si II) at a maximum at A5. The presence of Ca II lines is notably strengthening by this point. They comprise about 1 in 160 of the main sequence stars in the solar neighborhood.[9] Examples: Vega, Sirius, Deneb [edit]

Class F

Class F stars have strengthening H and K lines of Ca II. Neutral metals (Fe I, Cr I) beginning to gain on ionized metal lines by late F. Their spectra is characterized by the weaker hydrogen lines and ionized metals. Their color is white with a slight tinge of yellow. These represent about 1 in 32 of the main sequence stars in the solar neighborhood.[9] Examples: Canopus, Procyon [edit]

Class G

The most important class G star to humanity: our Sun. The dark area visible northwest of the South pole is a large sunspot.

Class G stars are probably the best known, if only for the reason that our Sun is of this class. Most notable are the H and K lines of Ca II, which are most prominent at G2. They have even weaker hydrogen lines than F, but along with the ionized metals, they have neutral metals. There is a prominent spike in the G band of CH molecules. G is host to the "Yellow Evolutionary Void".[16] Supergiant stars often swing between O or B (blue) and K or M (red). While they do this, they do not stay for long in the G classification as this is an extremely unstable place for a supergiant to be. G stars represent about 1 in 13 of the main sequence stars in the solar neighborhood.[9] Examples: Sun, Alpha Centauri A, Capella, Tau Ceti [edit]

Class K

Class K are orangish stars which are slightly cooler than our Sun. Some K stars are giants and supergiants, such as Arcturus, while others, like Alpha Centauri B, are main sequence stars. They have extremely weak hydrogen lines, if they are present at all, and mostly neutral metals (Mn I, Fe I, Si I). By late K, molecular bands of titanium oxide become present. These make up 1 in 8 of the main sequence stars in the solar neighborhood.[9] Examples: Alpha Centauri B, Epsilon Eridani, Arcturus, Aldebaran [edit]

Class M

Betelgeuse is a red supergiant, one of the largest stars known. Image from the Hubble Space Telescope.

Class M is by far the most common class. At least 80% of the main sequence stars in the solar neighborhood are red dwarfs (see the note under Class O),[9] such as Proxima Centauri. M is also host to most giants and some supergiants such as Antares and Betelgeuse, as well as Mira variables. The late-M group holds hotter brown dwarfs that are above the L spectrum. This is usually in the range of M6.5 to M9.5. The spectrum of an M star shows lines belonging to molecules and all neutral metals but hydrogen lines are usually absent. Titanium oxide can be strong in M stars, usually dominating by about M5. Vanadium oxide bands become present by late M. Example: Betelgeuse (supergiant) Examples: Proxima Centauri, Barnard's star, Gliese 581 (red dwarf) Example: LEHPM 2-59 [17] (subdwarf) Examples: Teide 1 (field brown dwarf), GSC 08047-00232 B [18] (companion brown dwarf)