The 3-D Sky: Giants

http://www.honeylocust.com/Stars/

The life of a star

The largest stars create nearly all of the chemical elements in the universe. Stars produce light by nuclear fusion, which builds heavier elements out of lighter elements. Driven by their great weight, the largest stars burn rapidly, living only ten million years, a lifespan 400 times shorter than that of the Earth. Throughout most of their short lives, big stars burn blue, but towards the end they swell and turn red. Nuclear fusion stops with the creation of iron. Without an energy source, the star collapses, triggering violent nuclear reactions that create the heavier elements such as lead, gold, and mercury. This supernova explosion is visible for millions of light years.

A prominant family

The blue cluster is the Scorpius-Centarus Association, a cluster of giant stars born together in a collapsing cloud of dust and gas over the past few ten million years. The red star, Antares, is the brightest in the group and is near death. You can see the cluster in the summer in the Northern Hemisphere. Antares is part of Scorpius: look for the bright red star on the southern horizon (In the southern hemisphere it will be overhead). With binoculars you can see a nearly starless region north of Antares. This remnant of the cloud that formed the Scorpius-Centaurus association hasn't yet condensed to form stars.

The Model

We used Freedom VR to show you the X brightest stars within 650 light years of the sun, the yellow star. All are at least 200 times as bright as the Sun and all are visible from a places away from outdoor lights. You can turn the model by dragging it horizontally with your mouse. If you have a VRML 2 browser, fly through the VRML version.

If you'd like to see the stars for yourself, print this out. Data provided by the Hipparchos astonomical catalog.