The 3-D Sky: Giants
The life of a star
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.
We used Freedom VR to show you the
X brightest stars within 650 light years of the sun, the yellow
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