A type Ia supernova (type one-a) is a type of supernova that occurs in binary systems (two stars orbiting one another) in which one of the stars is a white dwarf. The other star can be anything from a giant star to an even smaller white dwarf.
Physically, carbon–oxygen white dwarfs with a low rate of rotation are limited to below 1.44 solar masses (M☉). Beyond this, they re-ignite and in some cases trigger a supernova explosion. Somewhat confusingly, this limit is often referred to as the Chandrasekhar mass, despite being marginally different from the absolute Chandrasekhar limit where electron degeneracy pressure is unable to prevent catastrophic collapse. If a white dwarf gradually accretes mass from a binary companion, the general hypothesis is that its core will reach the ignition temperature for carbon fusion as it approaches the limit.
However, if the white dwarf merges with another white dwarf (a very rare event), it will momentarily exceed the limit and begin to collapse, again raising its temperature past the nuclear fusion ignition point. Within a few seconds of initiation of nuclear fusion, a substantial fraction of the matter in the white dwarf undergoes a runaway reaction, releasing enough energy (1–2×1044 J) to unbind the star in a supernova explosion.
This type Ia category of supernovae produces consistent peak luminosity because of the uniform mass of white dwarfs that explode via the accretion mechanism. The stability of this value allows these explosions to be used as standard candles to measure the distance to their host galaxies because the visual magnitude of the supernovae depends primarily on the distance.
In astronomy, parallax is the difference in the apparent position of an object seen by observers in different places. Stellar parallax is used to measure the distance of stars using the motion of the Earth in its orbit. Created by the different orbital positions of Earth, the extremely small observed shift is largest at time intervals of about six months, when Earth arrives at exactly opposite sides of the Sun in its orbit, giving a baseline distance of about two astronomical units between observations. The parallax itself is considered to be half of this maximum, about equivalent to the observational shift that would occur due to the different positions of Earth and the Sun, a baseline of one astronomical unit (AU).
Stellar parallax is so difficult to detect that its existence was the subject of much debate in astronomy for thousands of years. It was first observed by Giuseppe Calandrelli who reported parallax in α-Lyrae in his work “Osservazione e riflessione sulla parallasse annua dall’alfa della Lira”. Then in 1838 Friedrich Bessel made the first successful parallax measurement ever, for the star 61 Cygni, using a Fraunhofer heliometer at Königsberg Observatory.
Once a star’s parallax is known, its distance from Earth can be computed trigonometrically. But the more distant an object is, the smaller its parallax. Even with 21st-century techniques in astrometry, the limits of accurate measurement make distances farther away than about 100 parsecs (roughly 326 light years) too approximate to be useful when obtained by this technique. This limits the applicability of parallax as a measurement of distance to objects that are relatively close on a galactic scale. Other techniques, such as spectral red-shift, are required to measure the distance of more remote objects.
This image shows what it might look like standing on the surface of a planet orbiting a brown dwarf star. An alien moon can also be seen in the sky. The brown dwarf gives off such feeble visible light it is difficult to see any of the landscape except for the reflection in the water.
Stars are giant, luminous spheres of plasma. There are billions of them — including our own sun — in the Milky Way Galaxy. And there are billions of galaxies in the universe. So far, we have learned that hundreds also have planets orbiting them.
1. Stars are made of the same stuff
All stars begin from clouds of cold molecular hydrogen that gravitationally collapse. As they cloud collapses, it fragments into many pieces that will go on to form individual stars. The material collects into a ball that continues to collapse under its own gravity until it can ignite nuclear fusion at its core. This initial gas was formed during the Big Bang, and is always about 74% hydrogen and 25% helium. Over time, stars convert some of their hydrogen into helium. That’s why our Sun’s ratio is more like 70% hydrogen and 29% helium. But all stars start out with ¾ hydrogen and ¼ helium, with other trace elements.
2. Most stars are red dwarfs
If you could collect all the stars together and put them in piles, the biggest pile, by far, would be the red dwarfs. These are stars with less than 50% the mass of the Sun. Red dwarfs can even be as small as 7.5% the mass of the Sun. Below that point, the star doesn’t have the gravitational pressure to raise the temperature inside its core to begin nuclear fusion. Those are called brown dwarfs, or failed stars. Red dwarfs burn with less than 1/10,000th the energy of the Sun, and can sip away at their fuel for 10 trillion years before running out of hydrogen.
3. Mass = temperature = color
The color of stars can range from red to white to blue. Red is the coolest color; that’s a star with less than 3,500 Kelvin. Stars like our Sun are yellowish white and average around 6,000 Kelvin. The hottest stars are blue, which corresponds to surface temperatures above 12,000 Kelvin. So the temperature and color of a star are connected. Mass defines the temperature of a star. The more mass you have, the larger the star’s core is going to be, and the more nuclear fusion can be done at its core. This means that more energy reaches the surface of the star and increases its temperature. There’s a tricky exception to this: red giants. A typical red giant star can have the mass of our Sun, and would have been a white star all of its life. But as it nears the end of its life it increases in luminosity by a factor of 1000, and so it seems abnormally bright. But a blue giant star is just big, massive and hot.
Most stars come in multiples
It might look like all the stars are out there, all by themselves, but many come in pairs. These are binary stars, where two stars orbit a common center of gravity. And there are other systems out there with 3, 4 and even more stars. Just think of the beautiful sunrises you’d experience waking up on a world with 4 stars around it.
5. The biggest stars would engulf Saturn
Speaking of red giants, or in this case, red supergiants, there are some monster stars out there that really make our Sun look small. A familiar red supergiant is the star Betelgeuse in the constellation Orion. It has about 20 times the mass of the Sun, but it’s 1,000 times larger. But that’s nothing. The largest known star is the monster UY Scuti.
It is a current and leading candidate for being the largest known star by radius and is also one of the most luminous of its kind. It has an estimated radius of 1,708 solar radii (1.188×109 kilometres; 7.94 astronomical units); thus a volume nearly 5 billion times that of the Sun.
6. There are many, many stars
Quick, how many stars are there in the Milky Way. You might be surprised to know that there are 200-400 billion stars in our galaxy. Each one is a separate island in space, perhaps with planets, and some may even have life.
7. The Sun is the closest star
Okay, this one you should know, but it’s pretty amazing to think that our own Sun, located a mere 150 million km away is average example of all the stars in the Universe. Our own Sun is classified as a G2 yellow dwarf star in the main sequence phase of its life. The Sun has been happily converting hydrogen into helium at its core for 4.5 billion years, and will likely continue doing so for another 7+ billion years. When the Sun runs out of fuel, it will become a red giant, bloating up many times its current size. As it expands, the Sun will consume Mercury, Venus and probably even Earth.
8. The biggest stars die early
Small stars like red dwarfs can live for trillions of years. But hypergiant stars, die early, because they burn their fuel quickly and become supernovae. On average, they live only a few tens of millions of years or less.
9. Failed stars
Brown dwarfs are substellar objects that occupy the mass range between the heaviest gas giant planets and the lightest stars, of approximately 13 to 75–80 Jupiter masses (MJ).
Below this range are the sub-brown dwarfs, and above it are the lightest red dwarfs (M9 V).
Unlike the stars in the main-sequence, brown dwarfs are not massive enough to sustain nuclear fusion of ordinary hydrogen (1H) to helium in their cores.
10. Sirius: The Brightest Star in the Night Sky
Sirius is a star system and the brightest star in the Earth’s night sky. With a visual apparent magnitude of −1.46, it is almost twice as bright as Canopus, the next brightest star. The system has the Bayer designation Alpha Canis Majoris (α CMa). What the naked eye perceives as a single star is a binary star system, consisting of a white main-sequence star of spectral type A0 or A1, termed Sirius A, and a faint white dwarf companion of spectral type DA2, called Sirius B.