Stellar Evolution


When too much material tries to come together, everything starts to spin and flatten out. You get an accretion disc. Astronomers find them around newly forming stars, supermassive black holes and many other places in the Universe. Today we’ll talk about what it takes to get an accretion disc, and how they help us understand the objects inside.

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If you get enough hydrogen together in one place, gravity pulls it together to the point that the temperature and pressures are enough for fusion to occur. This is a star. But what happens when you don’t have quite enough hydrogen? Then you get a failed star, like a gas giant planet or a brown dwarf.

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Last week we looked at the complete life of the Sun, birth to death. But stars can be smaller, and stars can get much much larger. And with a change in mass, their lives change too. Let’s start the clock again, and see what happens to the smallest stars in the Universe; and what happens to the largest.

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After the big bang, all we had was hydrogen, a little bit of helium, and a few other trace elements. Today, we’ve a whole periodic table of elements to enjoy, from oxygen we breathe to the aluminium cans we drink from to the uranium that powers some people’s homes. How did we get from plain old hydrogen to our current diversity? It came from stars, in fact successive generations of stars.

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We’ve discussed star formation in the past, but now we wanted to talk about the different kinds of stellar nurseries we see across the Universe. We know where our Sun came from because we can look out and see different stellar neighborhoods at every stage of development. It takes a village of gas and dust to raise a star.

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