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The best thing about shoes is how they make you feel about yourself. Yes, we all desire comfort as well. But when I put on a pair red bottom stilettos, I really feel amazing. And I like the attention I receive as well. These type of shoes don’t really make me feel physically comfortable but for the short time I do wear them my confidence http://www.lakesidect.com/ is boosted and that makes it well worth any pain or agony I may have to go through. The trick to finding these fabulous shoes is to find them at discount shops in your local area or even at Djluu.com.
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Different kinds of berry jams are available all over the world these days. Theres no need to keep eating that same old borring strawberry jam your mother raised you on. Now you can get tasty jams straight from your local grocer that have a variety of different berries contained within each jar. Some of these jams have been flown from half way around the world and are now available right down the street from you. You need only put your shoes on and take a walk.
Of course there will be rasbery jam available which many people now fancy as well as bluberry which is a relatively new comer to the jam family. Most people use blueberry jam on their mancakes or waffles as it turns out. There are two other immensely popular jams available as well at your local super market and those are black berry jam and boisne bery jam. Most people have tried black bery jam and it is quite tasty in many regards, but boisen berry is where the real treat is. This is a berry that was develpped by Knotts Berry Farms quite some time ago. And remains very popular today. If you have never hear of this jam or berry check it out and try some today.
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Once you have it, review your credit report. If you see a lot of delinquent loans, you should get them out of the way to improve your credit score. Nobody expects you to pay all of them instantly but you need to have a score of 600 or higher to avail car loans. So if your score falls below that number, nobody can help you in getting a loan. Not even those finance companies that help people with bad credit. These companies also have to protect their financial interests and they can only go low as 600. Any score lower than that and you can kiss your dream car goodbye. So you should work out some of your loans by repaying them. Improving your credit score make take some time but it is not impossible. Once your score improves, head out to the largest car dealership near your place. Huge car dealers have are more lenient to people with credit score lower than 700. Some car dealerships also have their own financing department that can help you in getting a loan for a car.
Moreover, by increasing your down payment, you are likely to get a car loan from a car dealership. The more money you have for down payment, the better your chances are in getting a car loan. This also shows that you are committed to the car loan and that you are planning to pay the car that you are getting from them. Having a consigner would also help increase your chances of having a car loan approved. You can ask one of your friends or family who has a good credit rating to be your consigner. His credit score can override your bad credit and can greatly improve your chance of approval.
Overall, getting a car loan with a bad credit is challenging but not impossible as long as you know how to improve your credit score.
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Are you sick of mediocre vacations and do you want to take your dream vacation? Do you want to go to one of the 5 star luxury hotels that are out there ready to serve you your favorite drinks and food the entire time you are there? You can stay at many places that will be the perfect home for your dream vacation and it is all about what you want and how to get it.
The resort features a number of sports and leisure facilities. This includes three swimming pools and a waterpark. Families can enjoy playing tennis in one of the three outdoor courts and one indoor court for kids. A class of batik is also offered with a visit of the resort’s two baby elephants. However, sailing on the beach and playing computer games will add fun to your stay.
While a substantial number of luxury hotels are located in the city center close to shopping destinations and nightlife, others are along Phuket’s numerous beaches. These include both popular beaches that are not so quiet and the secluded beaches that are not commonly found in tourist itineraries. In the city, Luang Pho Road and Montri Road are the best places to find luxury hotels. Avantika Boutique Hotel, Adamas Resort Spa and Baan Yin Dee Boutique Resort are a few among them.
Get your mind relaxed by diving or water-skiing on the clear blue water of the island. If you feel to rest then the resorts or motels of Phuket are just good to mention. The 5 Star Hotels in Phuket are the real place to stay for it provides world class facilities to its visitors. Whether you are availing a honeymoon trip or enjoying a vacation with your friends or family, the requirements for staying comfortably is well arranged for every type of guests.
This 4 star bordering 5 star resort is located in Cape Panwa, to the south eastern corner of Phuket and close to Phuket City. Kids World provides separate play rooms for kids of different ages offering a host of facilities such as a play house & slide, making your own T-shirt, costume parties and much more. With no minimum age requirement, this is an enclosed sanctuary where the small kids can occupy themselves in a fun & safe environment.
Luxury hotels of Phuket offer the ideal setting to relax, rejuvenate, re-energize and even reinvent. These 5-star and 4-star hotels afford the ultimate in luxury together with the heady combination of Thai culture and warmth.
You can find great prices on fabulous Phuket 5 star resorts at phuket-fever.com. There is no better time to take a holiday in Phuket than now.
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Space is the boundless, three-dimensional extent in which objects and events occur and have relative position and direction. Physical space is often conceived in three linear dimensions, although modern physicists usually consider it, with time, to be part of a boundless four-dimensional continuum known as spacetime. In mathematics, “spaces” are examined with different numbers of dimensions and with different underlying structures. The concept of space is considered to be of fundamental importance to an understanding of the physical universe. However, disagreement continues between philosophers over whether it is itself an entity, a relationship between entities, or part of a conceptual framework.
Debates concerning the nature, essence and the mode of existence of space date back to antiquity; namely, to treatises like the Timaeus of Plato, or Socrates in his reflections on what the Greeks called khora (i.e. “space”), or in the Physics of Aristotle (Book IV, Delta) in the definition of topos (i.e. place), or even in the later “geometrical conception of place” as “space qua extension” in the Discourse on Place (Qawl fi al-Makan) of the 11th century Arab polymath Alhazen. Many of these classical philosophical questions were discussed in the Renaissance and then reformulated in the 17th century, particularly during the early development of classical mechanics. In Isaac Newton‘s view, space was absolute—in the sense that it existed permanently and independently of whether there were any matter in the space. Other natural philosophers, notably Gottfried Leibniz, thought instead that space was a collection of relations between objects, given by their distance and direction from one another. In the 18th century, the philosopher and theologian George Berkeley attempted to refute the “visibility of spatial depth” in his Essay Towards a New Theory of Vision. Later, the metaphysician Immanuel Kant said neither space nor time can be empirically perceived, they are elements of a systematic framework that humans use to structure all experiences. Kant referred to “space” in his Critique of Pure Reason as being: a subjective “pure a priori form of intuition”, hence it is an unavoidable contribution of our human faculties.
In the 19th and 20th centuries mathematicians began to examine non-Euclidean geometries, in which space can be said to be curved, rather than flat. According to Albert Einstein‘s theory of general relativity, space around gravitational fields deviates from Euclidean space. Experimental tests of general relativity have confirmed that non-Euclidean space provides a better model for the shape of space.
Philosophy of space
Leibniz and Newton
In the seventeenth century, the philosophy of space and time emerged as a central issue in epistemology and metaphysics. At its heart, Gottfried Leibniz, the German philosopher-mathematician, and Isaac Newton, the English physicist-mathematician, set out two opposing theories of what space is. Rather than being an entity that independently exists over and above other matter, Leibniz held that space is no more than the collection of spatial relations between objects in the world: “space is that which results from places taken together”. Unoccupied regions are those that could have objects in them, and thus spatial relations with other places. For Leibniz, then, space was an idealised abstraction from the relations between individual entities or their possible locations and therefore could not be continuous but must be discrete. Space could be thought of in a similar way to the relations between family members. Although people in the family are related to one another, the relations do not exist independently of the people. Leibniz argued that space could not exist independently of objects in the world because that implies a difference between two universes exactly alike except for the location of the material world in each universe. But since there would be no observational way of telling these universes apart then, according to the identity of indiscernibles, there would be no real difference between them. According to the principle of sufficient reason, any theory of space that implied that there could be these two possible universes, must therefore be wrong.
Newton took space to be more than relations between material objects and based his position on observation and experimentation. For a relationist there can be no real difference between inertial motion, in which the object travels with constant velocity, and non-inertial motion, in which the velocity changes with time, since all spatial measurements are relative to other objects and their motions. But Newton argued that since non-inertial motion generates forces, it must be absolute. He used the example of water in a spinning bucket to demonstrate his argument. Water in a bucket is hung from a rope and set to spin, starts with a flat surface. After a while, as the bucket continues to spin, the surface of the water becomes concave. If the bucket’s spinning is stopped then the surface of the water remains concave as it continues to spin. The concave surface is therefore apparently not the result of relative motion between the bucket and the water. Instead, Newton argued, it must be a result of non-inertial motion relative to space itself. For several centuries the bucket argument was decisive in showing that space must exist independently of matter.
In the eighteenth century the German philosopher Immanuel Kant developed a theory of knowledge in which knowledge about space can be both a priori and synthetic. According to Kant, knowledge about space is synthetic, in that statements about space are not simply true by virtue of the meaning of the words in the statement. In his work, Kant rejected the view that space must be either a substance or relation. Instead he came to the conclusion that space and time are not discovered by humans to be objective features of the world, but are part of an unavoidable systematic framework for organizing our experiences.
Euclid’s Elements contained five postulates that form the basis for Euclidean geometry. One of these, the parallel postulate has been the subject of debate among mathematicians for many centuries. It states that on any plane on which there is a straight line L1 and a point P not on L1, there is only one straight line L2 on the plane that passes through the point P and is parallel to the straight line L1. Until the 19th century, few doubted the truth of the postulate; instead debate centered over whether it was necessary as an axiom, or whether it was a theory that could be derived from the other axioms. Around 1830 though, the Hungarian János Bolyai and the Russian Nikolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky separately published treatises on a type of geometry that does not include the parallel postulate, called hyperbolic geometry. In this geometry, an infinite number of parallel lines pass through the point P. Consequently the sum of angles in a triangle is less than 180° and the ratio of a circle‘s circumference to its diameter is greater than pi. In the 1850s, Bernhard Riemann developed an equivalent theory of elliptical geometry, in which no parallel lines pass through P. In this geometry, triangles have more than 180° and circles have a ratio of circumference-to-diameter that is less than pi.
|Type of geometry||Number of parallels||Sum of angles in a triangle||Ratio of circumference to diameter of circle||Measure of curvature|
|Hyperbolic||Infinite||< 180°||> π||< 0|
|Elliptical||0||> 180°||< π||> 0|
Gauss and Poincaré
Although there was a prevailing Kantian consensus at the time, once non-Euclidean geometries had been formalised, some began to wonder whether or not physical space is curved. Carl Friedrich Gauss, a German mathematician, was the first to consider an empirical investigation of the geometrical structure of space. He thought of making a test of the sum of the angles of an enormous stellar triangle and there are reports he actually carried out a test, on a small scale, by triangulating mountain tops in Germany.
Henri Poincaré, a French mathematician and physicist of the late 19th century introduced an important insight in which he attempted to demonstrate the futility of any attempt to discover which geometry applies to space by experiment. He considered the predicament that would face scientists if they were confined to the surface of an imaginary large sphere with particular properties, known as a sphere-world. In this world, the temperature is taken to vary in such a way that all objects expand and contract in similar proportions in different places on the sphere. With a suitable falloff in temperature, if the scientists try to use measuring rods to determine the sum of the angles in a triangle, they can be deceived into thinking that they inhabit a plane, rather than a spherical surface. In fact, the scientists cannot in principle determine whether they inhabit a plane or sphere and, Poincaré argued, the same is true for the debate over whether real space is Euclidean or not. For him, which geometry was used to describe space, was a matter of convention. Since Euclidean geometry is simpler than non-Euclidean geometry, he assumed the former would always be used to describe the ‘true’ geometry of the world.
In 1905, Albert Einstein published a paper on a special theory of relativity, in which he proposed that space and time be combined into a single construct known as spacetime. In this theory, the speed of light in a vacuum is the same for all observers—which has the result that two events that appear simultaneous to one particular observer will not be simultaneous to another observer if the observers are moving with respect to one another. Moreover, an observer will measure a moving clock to tick more slowly than one that is stationary with respect to them; and objects are measured to be shortened in the direction that they are moving with respect to the observer.
Over the following ten years Einstein worked on a general theory of relativity, which is a theory of how gravity interacts with spacetime. Instead of viewing gravity as a force field acting in spacetime, Einstein suggested that it modifies the geometric structure of spacetime itself. According to the general theory, time goes more slowly at places with lower gravitational potentials and rays of light bend in the presence of a gravitational field. Scientists have studied the behaviour of binary pulsars, confirming the predictions of Einstein’s theories and non-Euclidean geometry is usually used to describe spacetime.
In modern mathematics spaces are defined as sets with some added structure. They are frequently described as different types of manifolds, which are spaces that locally approximate to Euclidean space, and where the properties are defined largely on local connectedness of points that lie on the manifold. There are however, many diverse mathematical objects that are called spaces. For example, vector spaces such as function spaces may have infinite numbers of independent dimensions and a notion of distance very different to Euclidean space, and topological spaces replace the concept of distance with a more abstract idea of nearness.
|History of classical mechanics
Timeline of classical mechanics
Space is one of the few fundamental quantities in physics, meaning that it cannot be defined via other quantities because nothing more fundamental is known at the present. On the other hand, it can be related to other fundamental quantities. Thus, similar to other fundamental quantities (like time and mass), space can be explored via measurement and experiment.
Before Einstein‘s work on relativistic physics, time and space were viewed as independent dimensions. Einstein’s discoveries showed that due to relativity of motion our space and time can be mathematically combined into one object — spacetime. It turns out that distances in space or in time separately are not invariant with respect to Lorentz coordinate transformations, but distances in Minkowski space-time along space-time intervals are—which justifies the name.
In addition, time and space dimensions should not be viewed as exactly equivalent in Minkowski space-time. One can freely move in space but not in time. Thus, time and space coordinates are treated differently both in special relativity (where time is sometimes considered an imaginary coordinate) and in general relativity (where different signs are assigned to time and space components of spacetime metric).
Experiments are ongoing to attempt to directly measure gravitational waves. This is essentially solutions to the equations of general relativity, which describe moving ripples of spacetime. Indirect evidence for this has been found in the motions of the Hulse-Taylor binary system.
Relativity theory leads to the cosmological question of what shape the universe is, and where space came from. It appears that space was created in the Big Bang, 13.7 billion years ago and has been expanding ever since. The overall shape of space is not known, but space is known to be expanding very rapidly due to the Cosmic Inflation.
The measurement of physical space has long been important. Although earlier societies had developed measuring systems, the International System of Units, (SI), is now the most common system of units used in the measuring of space, and is almost universally used.
Currently, the standard space interval, called a standard meter or simply meter, is defined as the distance traveled by light in a vacuum during a time interval of exactly 1/299,792,458 of a second. This definition coupled with present definition of the second is based on the special theory of relativity in which the speed of light plays the role of a fundamental constant of nature.
Geography is the branch of science concerned with identifying and describing the Earth, utilizing spatial awareness to try to understand why things exist in specific locations. Cartography is the mapping of spaces to allow better navigation, for visualization purposes and to act as a locational device. Geostatistics apply statistical concepts to collected spatial data to create an estimate for unobserved phenomena.
Geographical space is often considered as land, and can have a relation to ownership usage (in which space is seen as property or territory). While some cultures assert the rights of the individual in terms of ownership, other cultures will identify with a communal approach to land ownership, while still other cultures such as Australian Aboriginals, rather than asserting ownership rights to land, invert the relationship and consider that they are in fact owned by the land. Spatial planning is a method of regulating the use of space at land-level, with decisions made at regional, national and international levels. Space can also impact on human and cultural behavior, being an important factor in architecture, where it will impact on the design of buildings and structures, and on farming.
Ownership of space is not restricted to land. Ownership of airspace and of waters is decided internationally. Other forms of ownership have been recently asserted to other spaces—for example to the radio bands of the electromagnetic spectrum or to cyberspace.
Public space is a term used to define areas of land as collectively owned by the community, and managed in their name by delegated bodies; such spaces are open to all, while private property is the land culturally owned by an individual or company, for their own use and pleasure.
Abstract space is a term used in geography to refer to a hypothetical space characterized by complete homogeneity. When modeling activity or behavior, it is a conceptual tool used to limit extraneous variables such as terrain.
Psychologists first began to study the way space is perceived in the middle of the 19th century. Those now concerned with such studies regard it as a distinct branch of psychology. Psychologists analyzing the perception of space are concerned with how recognition of an object’s physical appearance or its interactions are perceived, see, for example, visual space.
Other, more specialized topics studied include amodal perception and object permanence. The perception of surroundings is important due to its necessary relevance to survival, especially with regards to hunting and self preservation as well as simply one’s idea of personal space.
|Wikipedia books are collections of articles that can be downloaded or ordered in print.|
- Absolute space and time
- Aether theories
- Effect of spaceflight on the human body
- General relativity
- Personal space
- Shape of the universe
- Space exploration
- Spatial-temporal reasoning
- Spatial analysis
- Visual space
- Space propaganda
- Britannica Online Encyclopedia: Space
- Refer to Plato’s Timaeus in the Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University, and to his reflections on khora. See also Aristotle’s Physics, Book IV, Chapter 5, on the definition of topos. Concerning Ibn al-Haytham’s 11th century conception of “geometrical place” as “spatial extension”, which is akin to Descartes‘ and Leibniz’s 17th century notions of extensio and analysis situs, and his own mathematical refutation of Aristotle’s definition of topos in natural philosophy, refer to: Nader El-Bizri, “In Defence of the Sovereignty of Philosophy: al-Baghdadi’s Critique of Ibn al-Haytham’s Geometrisation of Place”, Arabic Sciences and Philosophy: A Historical Journal (Cambridge University Press), Vol. 17 (2007), pp. 57-80.
- French and Ebison, Classical Mechanics, p. 1
- Carnap, R. An introduction to the Philosophy of Science
- Leibniz, Fifth letter to Samuel Clarke
- Vailati, E, Leibniz & Clarke: A Study of Their Correspondence p. 115
- Sklar, L, Philosophy of Physics, p. 20
- Sklar, L, Philosophy of Physics, p. 21
- Sklar, L, Philosophy of Physics, p. 22
- Newton’s bucket
- Carnap, R, An introduction to the philosophy of science, p. 177-178
- Lucas, John Randolph. Space, Time and Causality. p. 149. ISBN 0-19-875057-9.
- Carnap, R, An introduction to the philosophy of science, p. 126
- Carnap, R, An introduction to the philosophy of science, p. 134-136
- Jammer, M, Concepts of Space, p. 165
- A medium with a variable index of refraction could also be used to bend the path of light and again deceive the scientists if they attempt to use light to map out their geometry
- Carnap, R, An introduction to the philosophy of science, p. 148
- Sklar, L, Philosophy of Physics, p. 57
- Sklar, L, Philosophy of Physics, p. 43
- chapters 8 and 9- John A. Wheeler “A Journey Into Gravity and Spacetime” Scientific American ISBN 0-7167-6034-7
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Space|
|Look up space in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
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The Universe is commonly defined as the totality of existence, including planets, stars, galaxies, the contents of intergalactic space, and all matter and energy. Definitions and usage vary[how?] and similar terms include the cosmos, the world and nature.
Scientific observation of the Universe, which is believed to be at least 93 billion light years in diameter, has led to inferences of its earlier stages. These observations suggest that the Universe has been governed by the same physical laws and constants throughout most of its extent and history. The Big Bang theory is the prevailing cosmological model that describes the early development of the Universe, which in physical cosmology is believed to have occurred about 13.7 billion years ago.
There are various multiverse hypotheses, in which physicists have suggested that the Universe might be one among many universes that likewise exist. The farthest distance that it is theoretically possible for humans to see is described as the observable Universe. Observations have shown that the Universe appears to be expanding at an accelerating rate, and a number of models have arisen to predict its ultimate fate.
 Observational history
Throughout recorded history, several cosmologies and cosmogonies have been proposed to account for observations of the Universe. The earliest quantitative geocentric models were developed by the ancient Greek philosophers. Over the centuries, more precise observations and improved theories of gravity led to Copernicus’s heliocentric model and the Newtonian model of the Solar System, respectively. Further improvements in astronomy led to the realization that the Solar System is embedded in a galaxy composed of billions of stars, the Milky Way, and that other galaxies exist outside it, as far as astronomical instruments can reach. Careful studies of the distribution of these galaxies and their spectral lines have led to much of modern cosmology. Discovery of the red shift and cosmic microwave background radiation suggested that the Universe is expanding and had a beginning.
 History of the Universe
According to the prevailing scientific model of the Universe, known as the Big Bang, the Universe expanded from an extremely hot, dense phase called the Planck epoch, in which all the matter and energy of the observable Universe was concentrated. Since the Planck epoch, the Universe has been expanding to its present form, possibly with a brief period (less than 10−32 seconds) of cosmic inflation. Several independent experimental measurements support this theoretical expansion and, more generally, the Big Bang theory. Recent observations indicate that this expansion is accelerating because of dark energy, and that most of the matter in the Universe may be in a form which cannot be detected by present instruments, called dark matter. The common use of the “dark matter” and “dark energy” placeholder names for the unknown entities purported to account for about 95% of the mass-energy density of the Universe demonstrates the present observational and conceptual shortcomings and uncertainties concerning the nature and ultimate fate of the Universe.
Current interpretations of astronomical observations indicate that the age of the Universe is 13.75 ± 0.17 billion years, (whereas the decoupling of light and matter, see CMBR, happened already 380,000 years after the Big Bang), and that the diameter of the observable Universe is at least 93 billion light years or 8.80×1026 meters. According to general relativity, space can expand faster than the speed of light, although we can view only a small portion of the Universe due to the limitation imposed by light speed. Since we cannot observe space beyond the limitations of light (or any electromagnetic radiation), it is uncertain whether the size of the Universe is finite or infinite.
 Etymology, synonyms and definitions
The word Universe derives from the Old French word Univers, which in turn derives from the Latin word universum. The Latin word was used by Cicero and later Latin authors in many of the same senses as the modern English word is used. The Latin word derives from the poetic contraction Unvorsum — first used by Lucretius in Book IV (line 262) of his De rerum natura (On the Nature of Things) — which connects un, uni (the combining form of unus, or “one”) with vorsum, versum (a noun made from the perfect passive participle of vertere, meaning “something rotated, rolled, changed”).
An alternative interpretation of unvorsum is “everything rotated as one” or “everything rotated by one”. In this sense, it may be considered a translation of an earlier Greek word for the Universe, περιφορά, (periforá, “circumambulation”), originally used to describe a course of a meal, the food being carried around the circle of dinner guests. This Greek word refers to celestial spheres, an early Greek model of the Universe. Regarding Plato’s Metaphor of the sun, Aristotle suggests that the rotation of the sphere of fixed stars inspired by the prime mover, motivates, in turn, terrestrial change via the Sun. Careful astronomical and physical measurements (such as the Foucault pendulum) are required to prove the Earth rotates on its axis.
A term for “Universe” in ancient Greece was τὸ πᾶν (tò pán, The All, Pan (mythology)). Related terms were matter, (τὸ ὅλον, tò ólon, see also Hyle, lit. wood) and place (τὸ κενόν, tò kenón). Other synonyms for the Universe among the ancient Greek philosophers included κόσμος (cosmos) and φύσις (meaning Nature, from which we derive the word physics). The same synonyms are found in Latin authors (totum, mundus, natura) and survive in modern languages, e.g., the German words Das All, Weltall, and Natur for Universe. The same synonyms are found in English, such as everything (as in the theory of everything), the cosmos (as in cosmology), the world (as in the many-worlds hypothesis), and Nature (as in natural laws or natural philosophy).
 Broadest definition: reality and probability
The broadest definition of the Universe is found in De divisione naturae by the medieval philosopher and theologian Johannes Scotus Eriugena, who defined it as simply everything: everything that is created and everything that is not created.
 Definition as reality
More customarily, the Universe is defined as everything that exists, (has existed, and will exist). According to our current understanding, the Universe consists of three principles: spacetime, forms of energy, including momentum and matter, and the physical laws that relate them.
 Definition as connected space-time
It is possible to conceive of disconnected space-times, each existing but unable to interact with one another. An easily visualized metaphor is a group of separate soap bubbles, in which observers living on one soap bubble cannot interact with those on other soap bubbles, even in principle. According to one common terminology, each “soap bubble” of space-time is denoted as a Universe, whereas our particular space-time is denoted as the Universe, just as we call our moon the Moon. The entire collection of these separate space-times is denoted as the multiverse. In principle, the other unconnected universes may have different dimensionalities and topologies of space-time, different forms of matter and energy, and different physical laws and physical constants, although such possibilities are currently speculative.
 Definition as observable reality
According to a still-more-restrictive definition, the Universe is everything within our connected space-time that could have a chance to interact with us and vice versa. According to the general theory of relativity, some regions of space may never interact with ours even in the lifetime of the Universe, due to the finite speed of light and the ongoing expansion of space. For example, radio messages sent from Earth may never reach some regions of space, even if the Universe would live forever; space may expand faster than light can traverse it. It is worth emphasizing that those distant regions of space are taken to exist and be part of reality as much as we are; yet we can never interact with them. The spatial region within which we can affect and be affected is denoted as the observable Universe. Strictly speaking, the observable Universe depends on the location of the observer. By traveling, an observer can come into contact with a greater region of space-time than an observer who remains still, so that the observable Universe for the former is larger than for the latter. Nevertheless, even the most rapid traveler will not be able to interact with all of space. Typically, the observable Universe is taken to mean the Universe observable from our vantage point in the Milky Way Galaxy.
 Size, age, contents, structure, and laws
The Universe is immensely large and possibly infinite in volume. The region visible from Earth (the observable Universe) is a sphere with a radius of about 47 billion light years, based on where the expansion of space has taken the most distant objects observed. For comparison, the diameter of a typical galaxy is only 30,000 light-years, and the typical distance between two neighboring galaxies is only 3 million light-years. As an example, our Milky Way Galaxy is roughly 100,000 light years in diameter, and our nearest sister galaxy, the Andromeda Galaxy, is located roughly 2.5 million light years away. There are probably more than 100 billion (1011) galaxies in the observable Universe. Typical galaxies range from dwarfs with as few as ten million (107) stars up to giants with one trillion (1012) stars, all orbiting the galaxy’s center of mass. A 2010 study by astronomers estimated that the observable Universe contains 300 sextillion (3×1023) stars.
The observable matter is spread homogeneously (uniformly) throughout the Universe, when averaged over distances longer than 300 million light-years. However, on smaller length-scales, matter is observed to form “clumps”, i.e., to cluster hierarchically; many atoms are condensed into stars, most stars into galaxies, most galaxies into clusters, superclusters and, finally, the largest-scale structures such as the Great Wall of galaxies. The observable matter of the Universe is also spread isotropically, meaning that no direction of observation seems different from any other; each region of the sky has roughly the same content. The Universe is also bathed in a highly isotropic microwave radiation that corresponds to a thermal equilibrium blackbody spectrum of roughly 2.725 kelvin. The hypothesis that the large-scale Universe is homogeneous and isotropic is known as the cosmological principle, which is supported by astronomical observations.
The present overall density of the Universe is very low, roughly 9.9 × 10−30 grams per cubic centimetre. This mass-energy appears to consist of 73% dark energy, 23% cold dark matter and 4% ordinary matter. Thus the density of atoms is on the order of a single hydrogen atom for every four cubic meters of volume. The properties of dark energy and dark matter are largely unknown. Dark matter gravitates as ordinary matter, and thus works to slow the expansion of the Universe; by contrast, dark energy accelerates its expansion.
The current estimate of the Universe’s age is 13.72±0.12 billion years old, based on observations of the cosmic microwave background radiation. Independent estimates (based on measurements such as radioactive dating) agree at 13–15 billion years. The Universe has not been the same at all times in its history; for example, the relative populations of quasars and galaxies have changed and space itself appears to have expanded. This expansion accounts for how Earth-bound scientists can observe the light from a galaxy 30 billion light years away, even if that light has traveled for only 13 billion years; the very space between them has expanded. This expansion is consistent with the observation that the light from distant galaxies has been redshifted; the photons emitted have been stretched to longer wavelengths and lower frequency during their journey. The rate of this spatial expansion is accelerating, based on studies of Type Ia supernovae and corroborated by other data.
The relative fractions of different chemical elements — particularly the lightest atoms such as hydrogen, deuterium and helium — seem to be identical throughout the Universe and throughout its observable history. The Universe seems to have much more matter than antimatter, an asymmetry possibly related to the observations of CP violation. The Universe appears to have no net electric charge, and therefore gravity appears to be the dominant interaction on cosmological length scales. The Universe also appears to have neither net momentum nor angular momentum. The absence of net charge and momentum would follow from accepted physical laws (Gauss’s law and the non-divergence of the stress-energy-momentum pseudotensor, respectively), if the Universe were finite.
The Universe appears to have a smooth space-time continuum consisting of three spatial dimensions and one temporal (time) dimension. On the average, space is observed to be very nearly flat (close to zero curvature), meaning that Euclidean geometry is experimentally true with high accuracy throughout most of the Universe. Spacetime also appears to have a simply connected topology, at least on the length-scale of the observable Universe. However, present observations cannot exclude the possibilities that the Universe has more dimensions and that its spacetime may have a multiply connected global topology, in analogy with the cylindrical or toroidal topologies of two-dimensional spaces.
The Universe appears to behave in a manner that regularly follows a set of physical laws and physical constants. According to the prevailing Standard Model of physics, all matter is composed of three generations of leptons and quarks, both of which are fermions. These elementary particles interact via at most three fundamental interactions: the electroweak interaction which includes electromagnetism and the weak nuclear force; the strong nuclear force described by quantum chromodynamics; and gravity, which is best described at present by general relativity. The first two interactions can be described by renormalized quantum field theory, and are mediated by gauge bosons that correspond to a particular type of gauge symmetry. A renormalized quantum field theory of general relativity has not yet been achieved, although various forms of string theory seem promising. The theory of special relativity is believed to hold throughout the Universe, provided that the spatial and temporal length scales are sufficiently short; otherwise, the more general theory of general relativity must be applied. There is no explanation for the particular values that physical constants appear to have throughout our Universe, such as Planck’s constant h or the gravitational constant G. Several conservation laws have been identified, such as the conservation of charge, momentum, angular momentum and energy; in many cases, these conservation laws can be related to symmetries or mathematical identities.
 Fine tuning
It appears that many of the properties of the Universe have special values in the sense that a Universe where these properties only differ slightly would not be able to support intelligent life. Not all scientists agree that this fine-tuning exists. In particular, it is not known under what conditions intelligent life could form and what form or shape that would take. A relevant observation in this discussion is that for an observer to exist to observe fine-tuning, the Universe must be able to support intelligent life. As such the conditional probability of observing a Universe that is fine-tuned to support intelligent life is 1. This observation is known as the anthropic principle and is particularly relevant if the creation of the Universe was probabilistic or if multiple universes with a variety of properties exist (see below).
 Historical models
Many models of the cosmos (cosmologies) and its origin (cosmogonies) have been proposed, based on the then-available data and conceptions of the Universe. Historically, cosmologies and cosmogonies were based on narratives of gods acting in various ways. Theories of an impersonal Universe governed by physical laws were first proposed by the Greeks and Indians. Over the centuries, improvements in astronomical observations and theories of motion and gravitation led to ever more accurate descriptions of the Universe. The modern era of cosmology began with Albert Einstein’s 1915 general theory of relativity, which made it possible to quantitatively predict the origin, evolution, and conclusion of the Universe as a whole. Most modern, accepted theories of cosmology are based on general relativity and, more specifically, the predicted Big Bang; however, still more careful measurements are required to determine which theory is correct.
Many cultures have stories describing the origin of the world, which may be roughly grouped into common types. In one type of story, the world is born from a world egg; such stories include the Finnish epic poem Kalevala, the Chinese story of Pangu or the Indian Brahmanda Purana. In related stories, the creation idea is caused by a single entity emanating or producing something by him- or herself, as in the Tibetan Buddhism concept of Adi-Buddha, the ancient Greek story of Gaia (Mother Earth), the Aztec goddess Coatlicue myth, the ancient Egyptian god Atum story, or the Genesis creation narrative. In another type of story, the world is created from the union of male and female deities, as in the Maori story of Rangi and Papa. In other stories, the Universe is created by crafting it from pre-existing materials, such as the corpse of a dead god — as from Tiamat in the Babylonian epic Enuma Elish or from the giant Ymir in Norse mythology – or from chaotic materials, as in Izanagi and Izanami in Japanese mythology. In other stories, the Universe emanates from fundamental principles, such as Brahman and Prakrti, the creation myth of the Serers, or the yin and yang of the Tao.
 Philosophical models
From the 6th century BCE, the pre-Socratic Greek philosophers developed the earliest known philosophical models of the Universe. The earliest Greek philosophers noted that appearances can be deceiving, and sought to understand the underlying reality behind the appearances. In particular, they noted the ability of matter to change forms (e.g., ice to water to steam) and several philosophers proposed that all the apparently different materials of the world are different forms of a single primordial material, or arche. The first to do so was Thales, who proposed this material is Water. Thales’ student, Anaximander, proposed that everything came from the limitless apeiron. Anaximenes proposed Air on account of its perceived attractive and repulsive qualities that cause the arche to condense or dissociate into different forms. Anaxagoras, proposed the principle of Nous (Mind). Heraclitus proposed fire (and spoke of logos). Empedocles proposed the elements: earth, water, air and fire. His four element theory became very popular. Like Pythagoras, Plato believed that all things were composed of number, with the Empedocles’ elements taking the form of the Platonic solids. Democritus, and later philosophers—most notably Leucippus—proposed that the Universe was composed of indivisible atoms moving through void (vacuum). Aristotle did not believe that was feasible because air, like water, offers resistance to motion. Air will immediately rush in to fill a void, and moreover, without resistance, it would do so indefinitely fast.
Although Heraclitus argued for eternal change, his quasi-contemporary Parmenides made the radical suggestion that all change is an illusion, that the true underlying reality is eternally unchanging and of a single nature. Parmenides denoted this reality as τὸ ἐν (The One). Parmenides’ theory seemed implausible to many Greeks, but his student Zeno of Elea challenged them with several famous paradoxes. Aristotle responded to these paradoxes by developing the notion of a potential countable infinity, as well as the infinitely divisible continuum. Unlike the eternal and unchanging cycles of time, he believed the world was bounded by the celestial spheres, and thus magnitude was only finitely multiplicative.
The Indian philosopher Kanada, founder of the Vaisheshika school, developed a theory of atomism and proposed that light and heat were varieties of the same substance. In the 5th century AD, the Buddhist atomist philosopher Dignāga proposed atoms to be point-sized, durationless, and made of energy. They denied the existence of substantial matter and proposed that movement consisted of momentary flashes of a stream of energy.
The theory of temporal finitism was inspired by the doctrine of Creation shared by the three Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The Christian philosopher, John Philoponus, presented the philosophical arguments against the ancient Greek notion of an infinite past and future. Philoponus’ arguments against an infinite past were used by the early Muslim philosopher, Al-Kindi (Alkindus); the Jewish philosopher, Saadia Gaon (Saadia ben Joseph); and the Muslim theologian, Al-Ghazali (Algazel). Borrowing from Aristotle’s Physics and Metaphysics, they employed two logical arguments against an infinite past, the first being the “argument from the impossibility of the existence of an actual infinite”, which states:
- “An actual infinite cannot exist.”
- “An infinite temporal regress of events is an actual infinite.”
- “ An infinite temporal regress of events cannot exist.”
The second argument, the “argument from the impossibility of completing an actual infinite by successive addition”, states:
- “An actual infinite cannot be completed by successive addition.”
- “The temporal series of past events has been completed by successive addition.”
- “ The temporal series of past events cannot be an actual infinite.”
Both arguments were adopted by Christian philosophers and theologians, and the second argument in particular became more famous after it was adopted by Immanuel Kant in his thesis of the first antinomy concerning time.
 Astronomical models
Astronomical models of the Universe were proposed soon after astronomy began with the Babylonian astronomers, who viewed the Universe as a flat disk floating in the ocean, and this forms the premise for early Greek maps like those of Anaximander and Hecataeus of Miletus.
Later Greek philosophers, observing the motions of the heavenly bodies, were concerned with developing models of the Universe based more profoundly on empirical evidence. The first coherent model was proposed by Eudoxus of Cnidos. According to Aristotle’s physical interpretation of the model, celestial spheres eternally rotate with uniform motion around a stationary Earth. Normal matter, is entirely contained within the terrestrial sphere. This model was also refined by Callippus and after concentric spheres were abandoned, it was brought into nearly perfect agreement with astronomical observations by Ptolemy. The success of such a model is largely due to the mathematical fact that any function (such as the position of a planet) can be decomposed into a set of circular functions (the Fourier modes). Other Greek scientists, such as the Pythagorean philosopher Philolaus postulated that at the center of the Universe was a “central fire” around which the Earth, Sun, Moon and Planets revolved in uniform circular motion. The Greek astronomer Aristarchus of Samos was the first known individual to propose a heliocentric model of the Universe. Though the original text has been lost, a reference in Archimedes’ book The Sand Reckoner describes Aristarchus’ heliocentric theory. Archimedes wrote: (translated into English)
You King Gelon are aware the ‘Universe’ is the name given by most astronomers to the sphere the center of which is the center of the Earth, while its radius is equal to the straight line between the center of the Sun and the center of the Earth. This is the common account as you have heard from astronomers. But Aristarchus has brought out a book consisting of certain hypotheses, wherein it appears, as a consequence of the assumptions made, that the Universe is many times greater than the ‘Universe’ just mentioned. His hypotheses are that the fixed stars and the Sun remain unmoved, that the Earth revolves about the Sun on the circumference of a circle, the Sun lying in the middle of the orbit, and that the sphere of fixed stars, situated about the same center as the Sun, is so great that the circle in which he supposes the Earth to revolve bears such a proportion to the distance of the fixed stars as the center of the sphere bears to its surface.
Aristarchus thus believed the stars to be very far away, and saw this as the reason why there was no visible parallax, that is, an observed movement of the stars relative to each other as the Earth moved around the Sun. The stars are in fact much farther away than the distance that was generally assumed in ancient times, which is why stellar parallax is only detectable with telescopes. The geocentric model, consistent with planetary parallax, was assumed to be an explanation for the unobservability of the parallel phenomenon, stellar parallax. The rejection of the heliocentric view was apparently quite strong, as the following passage from Plutarch suggests (On the Apparent Face in the Orb of the Moon):
Cleanthes [a contemporary of Aristarchus and head of the Stoics] thought it was the duty of the Greeks to indict Aristarchus of Samos on the charge of impiety for putting in motion the Hearth of the Universe [i.e. the earth], . . . supposing the heaven to remain at rest and the earth to revolve in an oblique circle, while it rotates, at the same time, about its own axis. 
The only other astronomer from antiquity known by name who supported Aristarchus’ heliocentric model was Seleucus of Seleucia, a Hellenistic astronomer who lived a century after Aristarchus. According to Plutarch, Seleucus was the first to prove the heliocentric system through reasoning, but it is not known what arguments he used. Seleucus’ arguments for a heliocentric theory were probably related to the phenomenon of tides. According to Strabo (1.1.9), Seleucus was the first to state that the tides are due to the attraction of the Moon, and that the height of the tides depends on the Moon’s position relative to the Sun. Alternatively, he may have proved the heliocentric theory by determining the constants of a geometric model for the heliocentric theory and by developing methods to compute planetary positions using this model, like what Nicolaus Copernicus later did in the 16th century. During the Middle Ages, heliocentric models may have also been proposed by the Indian astronomer, Aryabhata, and by the Persian astronomers, Albumasar and Al-Sijzi.
The Aristotelian model was accepted in the Western world for roughly two millennia, until Copernicus revived Aristarchus’ theory that the astronomical data could be explained more plausibly if the earth rotated on its axis and if the sun were placed at the center of the Universe.
|“||In the center rests the sun. For who would place this lamp of a very beautiful temple in another or better place than this wherefrom it can illuminate everything at the same time?||”|
—Nicolaus Copernicus, in Chapter 10, Book 1 of De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestrum (1543)
As noted by Copernicus himself, the suggestion that the Earth rotates was very old, dating at least to Philolaus (c. 450 BC), Heraclides Ponticus (c. 350 BC) and Ecphantus the Pythagorean. Roughly a century before Copernicus, Christian scholar Nicholas of Cusa also proposed that the Earth rotates on its axis in his book, On Learned Ignorance (1440). Aryabhata (476–550), Brahmagupta (598–668), Albumasar and Al-Sijzi, also proposed that the Earth rotates on its axis. The first empirical evidence for the Earth’s rotation on its axis, using the phenomenon of comets, was given by Tusi (1201–1274) and Ali Qushji (1403–1474).
This cosmology was accepted by Isaac Newton, Christiaan Huygens and later scientists. Edmund Halley (1720) and Jean-Philippe de Cheseaux (1744) noted independently that the assumption of an infinite space filled uniformly with stars would lead to the prediction that the nighttime sky would be as bright as the sun itself; this became known as Olbers’ paradox in the 19th century. Newton believed that an infinite space uniformly filled with matter would cause infinite forces and instabilities causing the matter to be crushed inwards under its own gravity. This instability was clarified in 1902 by the Jeans instability criterion. One solution to these paradoxes is the Charlier Universe, in which the matter is arranged hierarchically (systems of orbiting bodies that are themselves orbiting in a larger system, ad infinitum) in a fractal way such that the Universe has a negligibly small overall density; such a cosmological model had also been proposed earlier in 1761 by Johann Heinrich Lambert. A significant astronomical advance of the 18th century was the realization by Thomas Wright, Immanuel Kant and others of nebulae.
 Theoretical models
Of the four fundamental interactions, gravitation is dominant at cosmological length scales; that is, the other three forces play a negligible role in determining structures at the level of planetary systems, galaxies and larger-scale structures. Because all matter and energy gravitate, gravity’s effects are cumulative; by contrast, the effects of positive and negative charges tend to cancel one another, making electromagnetism relatively insignificant on cosmological length scales. The remaining two interactions, the weak and strong nuclear forces, decline very rapidly with distance; their effects are confined mainly to sub-atomic length scales.
 General theory of relativity
Given gravitation’s predominance in shaping cosmological structures, accurate predictions of the Universe’s past and future require an accurate theory of gravitation. The best theory available is Albert Einstein‘s general theory of relativity, which has passed all experimental tests hitherto. However, because rigorous experiments have not been carried out on cosmological length scales, general relativity could conceivably be inaccurate. Nevertheless, its cosmological predictions appear to be consistent with observations, so there is no compelling reason to adopt another theory.
General relativity provides a set of ten nonlinear partial differential equations for the spacetime metric (Einstein’s field equations) that must be solved from the distribution of mass-energy and momentum throughout the Universe. Because these are unknown in exact detail, cosmological models have been based on the cosmological principle, which states that the Universe is homogeneous and isotropic. In effect, this principle asserts that the gravitational effects of the various galaxies making up the Universe are equivalent to those of a fine dust distributed uniformly throughout the Universe with the same average density. The assumption of a uniform dust makes it easy to solve Einstein’s field equations and predict the past and future of the Universe on cosmological time scales.
Einstein’s field equations include a cosmological constant (Λ), that corresponds to an energy density of empty space. Depending on its sign, the cosmological constant can either slow (negative Λ) or accelerate (positive Λ) the expansion of the Universe. Although many scientists, including Einstein, had speculated that Λ was zero, recent astronomical observations of type Ia supernovae have detected a large amount of “dark energy” that is accelerating the Universe’s expansion. Preliminary studies suggest that this dark energy corresponds to a positive Λ, although alternative theories cannot be ruled out as yet. Russian physicist Zel’dovich suggested that Λ is a measure of the zero-point energy associated with virtual particles of quantum field theory, a pervasive vacuum energy that exists everywhere, even in empty space. Evidence for such zero-point energy is observed in the Casimir effect.
 Special relativity and space-time
The Universe has at least three spatial and one temporal (time) dimension. It was long thought that the spatial and temporal dimensions were different in nature and independent of one another. However, according to the special theory of relativity, spatial and temporal separations are interconvertible (within limits) by changing one’s motion.
To understand this interconversion, it is helpful to consider the analogous interconversion of spatial separations along the three spatial dimensions. Consider the two endpoints of a rod of length L. The length can be determined from the differences in the three coordinates Δx, Δy and Δz of the two endpoints in a given reference frame
using the Pythagorean theorem. In a rotated reference frame, the coordinate differences differ, but they give the same length
Thus, the coordinates differences (Δx, Δy, Δz) and (Δξ, Δη, Δζ) are not intrinsic to the rod, but merely reflect the reference frame used to describe it; by contrast, the length L is an intrinsic property of the rod. The coordinate differences can be changed without affecting the rod, by rotating one’s reference frame.
The analogy in spacetime is called the interval between two events; an event is defined as a point in spacetime, a specific position in space and a specific moment in time. The spacetime interval between two events is given by
where c is the speed of light. According to special relativity, one can change a spatial and time separation (L1, Δt1) into another (L2, Δt2) by changing one’s reference frame, as long as the change maintains the spacetime interval s. Such a change in reference frame corresponds to changing one’s motion; in a moving frame, lengths and times are different from their counterparts in a stationary reference frame. The precise manner in which the coordinate and time differences change with motion is described by the Lorentz transformation.
 Solving Einstein’s field equations
The distances between the spinning galaxies increase with time, but the distances between the stars within each galaxy stay roughly the same, due to their gravitational interactions. This animation illustrates a closed Friedmann Universe with zero cosmological constant Λ; such a Universe oscillates between a Big Bang and a Big Crunch.
In non-Cartesian (non-square) or curved coordinate systems, the Pythagorean theorem holds only on infinitesimal length scales and must be augmented with a more general metric tensor gμν, which can vary from place to place and which describes the local geometry in the particular coordinate system. However, assuming the cosmological principle that the Universe is homogeneous and isotropic everywhere, every point in space is like every other point; hence, the metric tensor must be the same everywhere. That leads to a single form for the metric tensor, called the Friedmann–Lemaître–Robertson–Walker metric
where (r, θ, φ) correspond to a spherical coordinate system. This metric has only two undetermined parameters: an overall length scale R that can vary with time, and a curvature index k that can be only 0, 1 or −1, corresponding to flat Euclidean geometry, or spaces of positive or negative curvature. In cosmology, solving for the history of the Universe is done by calculating R as a function of time, given k and the value of the cosmological constant Λ, which is a (small) parameter in Einstein’s field equations. The equation describing how R varies with time is known as the Friedmann equation, after its inventor, Alexander Friedmann.
The solutions for R(t) depend on k and Λ, but some qualitative features of such solutions are general. First and most importantly, the length scale R of the Universe can remain constant only if the Universe is perfectly isotropic with positive curvature (k=1) and has one precise value of density everywhere, as first noted by Albert Einstein. However, this equilibrium is unstable and because the Universe is known to be inhomogeneous on smaller scales, R must change, according to general relativity. When R changes, all the spatial distances in the Universe change in tandem; there is an overall expansion or contraction of space itself. This accounts for the observation that galaxies appear to be flying apart; the space between them is stretching. The stretching of space also accounts for the apparent paradox that two galaxies can be 40 billion light years apart, although they started from the same point 13.7 billion years ago and never moved faster than the speed of light.
Second, all solutions suggest that there was a gravitational singularity in the past, when R goes to zero and matter and energy became infinitely dense. It may seem that this conclusion is uncertain because it is based on the questionable assumptions of perfect homogeneity and isotropy (the cosmological principle) and that only the gravitational interaction is significant. However, the Penrose–Hawking singularity theorems show that a singularity should exist for very general conditions. Hence, according to Einstein’s field equations, R grew rapidly from an unimaginably hot, dense state that existed immediately following this singularity (when R had a small, finite value); this is the essence of the Big Bang model of the Universe. A common misconception is that the Big Bang model predicts that matter and energy exploded from a single point in space and time; that is false. Rather, space itself was created in the Big Bang and imbued with a fixed amount of energy and matter distributed uniformly throughout; as space expands (i.e., as R(t) increases), the density of that matter and energy decreases.
Space has no boundary – that is empirically more certain than any external observation. However, that does not imply that space is infinite… (translated, original German)
|Bernhard Riemann (Habilitationsvortrag, 1854)|
Third, the curvature index k determines the sign of the mean spatial curvature of spacetime averaged over length scales greater than a billion light years. If k=1, the curvature is positive and the Universe has a finite volume. Such universes are often visualized as a three-dimensional sphere S3 embedded in a four-dimensional space. Conversely, if k is zero or negative, the Universe may have infinite volume, depending on its overall topology. It may seem counter-intuitive that an infinite and yet infinitely dense Universe could be created in a single instant at the Big Bang when R=0, but exactly that is predicted mathematically when k does not equal 1. For comparison, an infinite plane has zero curvature but infinite area, whereas an infinite cylinder is finite in one direction and a torus is finite in both. A toroidal Universe could behave like a normal Universe with periodic boundary conditions, as seen in “wrap-around” video games such as Asteroids; a traveler crossing an outer “boundary” of space going outwards would reappear instantly at another point on the boundary moving inwards.
The ultimate fate of the Universe is still unknown, because it depends critically on the curvature index k and the cosmological constant Λ. If the Universe is sufficiently dense, k equals +1, meaning that its average curvature throughout is positive and the Universe will eventually recollapse in a Big Crunch, possibly starting a new Universe in a Big Bounce. Conversely, if the Universe is insufficiently dense, k equals 0 or −1 and the Universe will expand forever, cooling off and eventually becoming inhospitable for all life, as the stars die and all matter coalesces into black holes (the Big Freeze and the heat death of the Universe). As noted above, recent data suggests that the expansion speed of the Universe is not decreasing as originally expected, but increasing; if this continues indefinitely, the Universe will eventually rip itself to shreds (the Big Rip). Experimentally, the Universe has an overall density that is very close to the critical value between recollapse and eternal expansion; more careful astronomical observations are needed to resolve the question.
 Big Bang model
The prevailing Big Bang model accounts for many of the experimental observations described above, such as the correlation of distance and redshift of galaxies, the universal ratio of hydrogen:helium atoms, and the ubiquitous, isotropic microwave radiation background. As noted above, the redshift arises from the metric expansion of space; as the space itself expands, the wavelength of a photon traveling through space likewise increases, decreasing its energy. The longer a photon has been traveling, the more expansion it has undergone; hence, older photons from more distant galaxies are the most red-shifted. Determining the correlation between distance and redshift is an important problem in experimental physical cosmology.
Other experimental observations can be explained by combining the overall expansion of space with nuclear and atomic physics. As the Universe expands, the energy density of the electromagnetic radiation decreases more quickly than does that of matter, because the energy of a photon decreases with its wavelength. Thus, although the energy density of the Universe is now dominated by matter, it was once dominated by radiation; poetically speaking, all was light. As the Universe expanded, its energy density decreased and it became cooler; as it did so, the elementary particles of matter could associate stably into ever larger combinations. Thus, in the early part of the matter-dominated era, stable protons and neutrons formed, which then associated into atomic nuclei. At this stage, the matter in the Universe was mainly a hot, dense plasma of negative electrons, neutral neutrinos and positive nuclei. Nuclear reactions among the nuclei led to the present abundances of the lighter nuclei, particularly hydrogen, deuterium, and helium. Eventually, the electrons and nuclei combined to form stable atoms, which are transparent to most wavelengths of radiation; at this point, the radiation decoupled from the matter, forming the ubiquitous, isotropic background of microwave radiation observed today.
Other observations are not answered definitively by known physics. According to the prevailing theory, a slight imbalance of matter over antimatter was present in the Universe’s creation, or developed very shortly thereafter, possibly due to the CP violation that has been observed by particle physicists. Although the matter and antimatter mostly annihilated one another, producing photons, a small residue of matter survived, giving the present matter-dominated Universe. Several lines of evidence also suggest that a rapid cosmic inflation of the Universe occurred very early in its history (roughly 10−35 seconds after its creation). Recent observations also suggest that the cosmological constant (Λ) is not zero and that the net mass-energy content of the Universe is dominated by a dark energy and dark matter that have not been characterized scientifically. They differ in their gravitational effects. Dark matter gravitates as ordinary matter does, and thus slows the expansion of the Universe; by contrast, dark energy serves to accelerate the Universe’s expansion.
 Multiverse theory
Some speculative theories have proposed that this Universe is but one of a set of disconnected universes, collectively denoted as the multiverse, challenging or enhancing more limited definitions of the Universe. Scientific multiverse theories are distinct from concepts such as alternate planes of consciousness and simulated reality, although the idea of a larger Universe is not new; for example, Bishop Étienne Tempier of Paris ruled in 1277 that God could create as many universes as he saw fit, a question that was being hotly debated by the French theologians.
Max Tegmark developed a four part classification scheme for the different types of multiverses that scientists have suggested in various problem domains. An example of such a theory is the chaotic inflation model of the early Universe. Another is the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. Parallel worlds are generated in a manner similar to quantum superposition and decoherence, with all states of the wave function being realized in separate worlds. Effectively, the multiverse evolves as a universal wavefunction. If the big bang that created our multiverse created an ensemble of multiverses, the wave function of the ensemble would be entangled in this sense.
The least controversial category of multiverse in Tegmark’s scheme is Level I, which describes distant space-time events “in our own Universe”. If space is infinite, or sufficiently large and uniform, identical instances of the history of Earth’s entire Hubble volume occur every so often, simply by chance. Tegmark calculated our nearest so-called doppelgänger, is 1010115 meters away from us (a double exponential function larger than a googolplex). In principle, it would be impossible to scientifically verify an identical Hubble volume. However, it does follow as a fairly straightforward consequence from otherwise unrelated scientific observations and theories. Tegmark suggests that statistical analysis exploiting the anthropic principle provides an opportunity to test multiverse theories in some cases. Generally, science would consider a multiverse theory that posits neither a common point of causation, nor the possibility of interaction between universes, to be an idle speculation.
 Shape of the Universe
The shape or geometry of the Universe includes both local geometry in the observable Universe and global geometry, which we may or may not be able to measure. Shape can refer to curvature and topology. More formally, the subject in practice investigates which 3-manifold corresponds to the spatial section in comoving coordinates of the four-dimensional space-time of the Universe. Cosmologists normally work with a given space-like slice of spacetime called the comoving coordinates. In terms of observation, the section of spacetime that can be observed is the backward light cone (points within the cosmic light horizon, given time to reach a given observer). If the observable Universe is smaller than the entire Universe (in some models it is many orders of magnitude smaller), one cannot determine the global structure by observation: one is limited to a small patch.
Among the Friedmann–Lemaître–Robertson–Walker (FLRW) models, the presently most popular shape of the Universe found to fit observational data according to cosmologists is the infinite flat model, while other FLRW models include the Poincaré dodecahedral space and the Picard horn. The data fit by these FLRW models of space especially include the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) maps of cosmic background radiation. NASA released the first WMAP cosmic background radiation data in February 2003. In 2009 the Planck observatory was launched to observe the microwave background at higher resolution than WMAP, possibly providing more information on the shape of the Universe. The data should be released in late 2012.
 See also
- Cosmic latte
- Dyson’s eternal intelligence
- Esoteric cosmology
- False vacuum
- Final anthropic principle
- Fine-tuned Universe
- Hindu cycle of the universe
- Jain cosmology
- Kardashev scale
- The Mysterious Universe (book)
- Non-standard cosmology
- Observable Universe
- Omega Point
- Rare Earth hypothesis
- Vacuum genesis
- World view
- Zero-energy Universe
 Notes and references
- Webster’s New World College Dictionary. Wiley Publishing, Inc.. 2010. http://www.yourdictionary.com/Universe.
- “Universe”, Encyclopedia Britannica, http://www.britannica.com/search?query=Universe, “the whole cosmic system of matter and energy of which Earth, and therefore the human race, is a part”
- “Dictionary.com”. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/Universe?s=t. Retrieved 2012-09-21.
- “Merriam-Webster Dictionary”. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Universe. Retrieved 2012-09-21.
- The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. 2010. http://www.yourdictionary.com/Universe.
- Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary. http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/Universe.
- Itzhak Bars; John Terning (November 2009). Extra Dimensions in Space and Time. Springer. pp. 27–. ISBN 978-0-387-77637-8. http://books.google.com/books?id=fFSMatekilIC&pg=PA27. Retrieved 1 May 2011.
- Wollack, Edward J. (10 December 2010). “Cosmology: The Study of the Universe”. Universe 101: Big Bang Theory. NASA. Archived from the original on 14 May 2011. http://map.gsfc.nasa.gov/universe/. Retrieved 27 April 2011.: « The second section discusses the classic tests of the Big Bang theory that make it so compelling as the likely valid description of our universe. »
- Komatsu, E. et al. (2009). “Five-Year Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe Observations: Cosmological Interpretation”. Astrophysical Journal Supplement 180 (2): 330. arXiv:0803.0547. Bibcode 2009ApJS..180..330K. doi:10.1088/0067-0049/180/2/330.
- multiverse. Astronomy.pomona.edu. Retrieved on 2011-11-28.
- Palmer, Jason. (2011-08-03) BBC News – ‘Multiverse’ theory suggested by microwave background. Retrieved on 2011-11-28.
- Moskowitz, Clara (September 25, 2012). “Hubble Telescope Reveals Farthest View Into Universe Ever”. Space.com. http://www.space.com/17755-farthest-Universe-view-hubble-space-telescope.html. Retrieved September 26, 2012.
- In contrast to dark energy, which is expansive (“negative pressure”), the dark matter leads to “clumping” through gravitation.
- Universe, ed. Martin Rees, pp. 54-55, Dorling Kindersley Publishing, New York 2005, ISBN 978-0-7566-1364-8
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- Will Durant, Our Oriental Heritage:
“Two systems of Hindu thought propound physical theories suggestively similar to those of Greece. Kanada, founder of the Vaisheshika philosophy, held that the world was composed of atoms as many in kind as the various elements. The Jains more nearly approximated to Democritus by teaching that all atoms were of the same kind, producing different effects by diverse modes of combinations. Kanada believed light and heat to be varieties of the same substance; Udayana taught that all heat comes from the sun; and Vachaspati, like Newton, interpreted light as composed of minute particles emitted by substances and striking the eye.”
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“The Buddhists denied the existence of substantial matter altogether. Movement consists for them of moments, it is a staccato movement, momentary flashes of a stream of energy… “Everything is evanescent“,… says the Buddhist, because there is no stuff… Both systems [Sānkhya, and later Indian Buddhism] share in common a tendency to push the analysis of existence up to its minutest, last elements which are imagined as absolute qualities, or things possessing only one unique quality. They are called “qualities” (guna-dharma) in both systems in the sense of absolute qualities, a kind of atomic, or intra-atomic, energies of which the empirical things are composed. Both systems, therefore, agree in denying the objective reality of the categories of Substance and Quality,… and of the relation of Inference uniting them. There is in Sānkhya philosophy no separate existence of qualities. What we call quality is but a particular manifestation of a subtle entity. To every new unit of quality corresponds a subtle quantum of matter which is called guna “quality”, but represents a subtle substantive entity. The same applies to early Buddhism where all qualities are substantive… or, more precisely, dynamic entities, although they are also called dharmas (‘qualities’).”
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- Shape of the Universe, WMAP website at NASA.
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- Bartel (1987). “The Heliocentric System in Greek, Persian and Hindu Astronomy”. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 500 (1): 525–545. Bibcode 1987NYASA.500..525V. doi:10.1111/j.1749-6632.1987.tb37224.x.
- Landau, Lev, Lifshitz, E.M. (1975). The Classical Theory of Fields (Course of Theoretical Physics, Vol. 2) (revised 4th English ed.). New York: Pergamon Press. pp. 358–397. ISBN 978-0-08-018176-9.
- Liddell, H. G. and Scott, R. A Greek-English Lexicon, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-864214-8
- Misner, C.W., Thorne, Kip, Wheeler, J.A. (1973). Gravitation. San Francisco: W. H. Freeman. pp. 703–816. ISBN 978-0-7167-0344-0.
- Rindler, W. (1977). Essential Relativity: Special, General, and Cosmological. New York: Springer Verlag. pp. 193–244. ISBN 0-387-10090-3.
 Further reading
- Weinberg, S. (1993). The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe (2nd updated ed.). New York: Basic Books. ISBN 978-0-465-02437-7. OCLC 28746057. For lay readers.
- Nussbaumer, Harry; Bieri, Lydia; Sandage, Allan (2009). Discovering the Expanding Universe. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-51484-2. http://books.google.com/books?id=RaNOJkQ4l14C.
- Is there a hole in the Universe? at HowStuffWorks
- Stephen Hawking’s Universe – Why is the Universe the way it is?
- Cosmology FAQ
- Cosmos – An “illustrated dimensional journey from microcosmos to macrocosmos”
- Illustration comparing the sizes of the planets, the sun, and other stars
- My So-Called Universe – Arguments for and against an infinite and parallel universes
- The Dark Side and the Bright Side of the Universe Princeton University, Shirley Ho
- Richard Powell: An Atlas of the Universe – Images at various scales, with explanations
- Multiple Big Bangs
- Universe – Space Information Centre
- Exploring the Universe at Nasa.gov
- The Known Universe created by the American Museum of Natural History
- Understand The Size Of The Universe – by Powers of Ten
- 3-D Video (01:46) – Over a Million Galaxies of Billions of Stars each – BerkeleyLab/animated
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A galaxy is a massive, gravitationally bound system consisting of stars, stellar remnants, an interstellar medium of gas and dust, and an important but poorly understood component called dark matter. The word galaxy is derived from the Greek galaxias (γαλαξίας), literally “milky”, a reference to the Milky Way. Examples of galaxies range from dwarfs with as few as ten million (107) stars to giants with a hundred trillion (1014) stars, each orbiting their galaxy’s own center of mass.
Galaxies contain varying numbers of star systems, star clusters and types of interstellar clouds. In between these objects is a sparse interstellar medium of gas, dust, and cosmic rays. Dark matter appears to account for around 90% of the mass of most galaxies. Observational data suggests that supermassive black holes may exist at the center of many, if not all, galaxies. They are thought to be the primary driver of active galactic nuclei found at the core of some galaxies. The Milky Way galaxy appears to harbor at least one such object.
Galaxies have been historically categorized according to their apparent shape; usually referred to as their visual morphology. A common form is the elliptical galaxy, which has an ellipse-shaped light profile. Spiral galaxies are disk-shaped with dusty, curving arms. Those with irregular or unusual shapes are known as irregular galaxies and typically originate from disruption by the gravitational pull of neighboring galaxies. Such interactions between nearby galaxies, which may ultimately result in a merging, sometimes induce significantly increased incidents of star formation leading to starburst galaxies. Smaller galaxies lacking a coherent structure are referred to as irregular galaxies.
There are probably more than 170 billion (1.7 × 1011) galaxies in the observable Universe. Most are 1,000 to 100,000 parsecs in diameter and usually separated by distances on the order of millions of parsecs (or megaparsecs). Intergalactic space (the space between galaxies) is filled with a tenuous gas of an average density less than one atom per cubic meter. The majority of galaxies are organized into a hierarchy of associations known as groups and clusters, which, in turn usually form larger superclusters. At the largest scale, these associations are generally arranged into sheets and filaments, which are surrounded by immense voids.
The word galaxy derives from the Greek term for our own galaxy, galaxias (γαλαξίας, “milky one”), or kyklos (“circle”) galaktikos (“milky”) for its appearance in the sky. In Greek mythology, Zeus places his son born by a mortal woman, the infant Heracles, on Hera‘s breast while she is asleep so that the baby will drink her divine milk and will thus become immortal. Hera wakes up while breastfeeding and then realizes she is nursing an unknown baby: she pushes the baby away and a jet of her milk sprays the night sky, producing the faint band of light known as the Milky Way.
In the astronomical literature, the capitalized word ‘Galaxy’ is used to refer to our galaxy, the Milky Way, to distinguish it from the billions of other galaxies. The English term Milky Way can be traced back to a story by Chaucer:
“See yonder, lo, the Galaxyë
Which men clepeth the Milky Wey,
For hit is whyt.”
When William Herschel constructed his catalog of deep sky objects in 1786, he used the name spiral nebula for certain objects such as M31. These would later be recognized as immense conglomerations of stars, when the true distance to these objects began to be appreciated, and they would be termed island universes. However, the word Universe was understood to mean the entirety of existence, so this expression fell into disuse and the objects instead became known as galaxies.
 Observation history
The realization that we live in a galaxy, and that there were, in fact, many other galaxies, parallels discoveries that were made about the Milky Way and other nebulae in the night sky.
 Milky Way
The Greek philosopher Democritus (450–370 BC) proposed that the bright band on the night sky known as the Milky Way might consist of distant stars. Aristotle (384–322 BC), however, believed the Milky Way to be caused by “the ignition of the fiery exhalation of some stars that were large, numerous and close together” and that the “ignition takes place in the upper part of the atmosphere, in the region of the World that is continuous with the heavenly motions.” The Neoplatonist philosopher Olympiodorus the Younger (c. 495–570 AD) was scientifically critical of this view, arguing that if the Milky Way were sublunary it should appear different at different times and places on the Earth, and that it should have parallax, which it does not. In his view, the Milky Way was celestial. This idea would be influential later in the Islamic world.
According to Mohani Mohamed, the Arabian astronomer Alhazen (965–1037) made the first attempt at observing and measuring the Milky Way’s parallax, and he thus “determined that because the Milky Way had no parallax, it was very remote from the Earth and did not belong to the atmosphere.” The Persian astronomer al-Bīrūnī (973–1048) proposed the Milky Way galaxy to be “a collection of countless fragments of the nature of nebulous stars.” The Andalusian astronomer Ibn Bajjah (“Avempace”, d. 1138) proposed that the Milky Way was made up of many stars that almost touch one another and appear to be a continuous image due to the effect of refraction from sublunary material, citing his observation of the conjunction of Jupiter and Mars as evidence of this occurring when two objects are near. In the 14th century, the Syrian-born Ibn Qayyim proposed the Milky Way galaxy to be “a myriad of tiny stars packed together in the sphere of the fixed stars”.
Actual proof of the Milky Way consisting of many stars came in 1610 when the Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei used a telescope to study the Milky Way and discovered that it is composed of a huge number of faint stars. In 1750 the English astronomer Thomas Wright, in his An original theory or new hypothesis of the Universe, speculated (correctly) that the galaxy might be a rotating body of a huge number of stars held together by gravitational forces, akin to the solar system but on a much larger scale. The resulting disk of stars can be seen as a band on the sky from our perspective inside the disk. In a treatise in 1755, Immanuel Kant elaborated on Wright’s idea about the structure of the Milky Way.
The first attempt to describe the shape of the Milky Way and the position of the Sun in it was carried out by William Herschel in 1785 by carefully counting the number of stars in different regions of the sky. He produced a diagram of the shape of the galaxy with the solar system close to the center. Using a refined approach, Kapteyn in 1920 arrived at the picture of a small (diameter about 15 kiloparsecs) ellipsoid galaxy with the Sun close to the center. A different method by Harlow Shapley based on the cataloguing of globular clusters led to a radically different picture: a flat disk with diameter approximately 70 kiloparsecs and the Sun far from the center. Both analyses failed to take into account the absorption of light by interstellar dust present in the galactic plane, but after Robert Julius Trumpler quantified this effect in 1930 by studying open clusters, the present picture of our host galaxy, the Milky Way, emerged.
 Distinction from other nebulae
In the 10th century, the Persian astronomer Al-Sufi made the earliest recorded observation of the Andromeda Galaxy, describing it as a “small cloud”. Al-Sufi, who published his findings in his Book of Fixed Stars in 964, also identified the Large Magellanic Cloud, which is visible from Yemen, though not from Isfahan; it was not seen by Europeans until Magellan‘s voyage in the 16th century. The Andromeda Galaxy was independently rediscovered by Simon Marius in 1612. These are the only galaxies outside the Milky Way that are easily visible to the unaided eye, so they were the first galaxies to be observed from Earth. In 1750 Thomas Wright, in his An original theory or new hypothesis of the Universe, speculated (correctly) that the Milky Way was a flattened disk of stars, and that some of the nebulae visible in the night sky might be separate Milky Ways. In 1755, Immanuel Kant introduced the term[where?] “island Universe” for these distant nebulae.
Toward the end of the 18th century, Charles Messier compiled a catalog containing the 109 brightest nebulae (celestial objects with a nebulous appearance), later followed by a larger catalog of 5,000 nebulae assembled by William Herschel. In 1845, Lord Rosse constructed a new telescope and was able to distinguish between elliptical and spiral nebulae. He also managed to make out individual point sources in some of these nebulae, lending credence to Kant’s earlier conjecture.
In 1912, Vesto Slipher made spectrographic studies of the brightest spiral nebulae to determine if they were made from chemicals that would be expected in a planetary system. However, Slipher discovered that the spiral nebulae had high red shifts, indicating that they were moving away at a rate higher than the Milky Way’s escape velocity. Thus they were not gravitationally bound to the Milky Way, and were unlikely to be a part of the galaxy.
In 1917, Heber Curtis had observed a nova S Andromedae within the “Great Andromeda Nebula” (as the Andromeda Galaxy, Messier object M31, was known). Searching the photographic record, he found 11 more novae. Curtis noticed that these novae were, on average, 10 magnitudes fainter than those that occurred within our galaxy. As a result he was able to come up with a distance estimate of 150,000 parsecs. He became a proponent of the so-called “island universes” hypothesis, which holds that spiral nebulae are actually independent galaxies.
In 1920 the so-called Great Debate took place between Harlow Shapley and Heber Curtis, concerning the nature of the Milky Way, spiral nebulae, and the dimensions of the Universe. To support his claim that the Great Andromeda Nebula was an external galaxy, Curtis noted the appearance of dark lanes resembling the dust clouds in the Milky Way, as well as the significant Doppler shift.
The matter was conclusively settled in the early 1920s. In 1922, the Estonian astronomer Ernst Öpik gave a distance determination that supported the theory that the Andromeda Nebula is indeed a distant extra-galactic object. Using the new 100 inch Mt. Wilson telescope, Edwin Hubble was able to resolve the outer parts of some spiral nebulae as collections of individual stars and identified some Cepheid variables, thus allowing him to estimate the distance to the nebulae: they were far too distant to be part of the Milky Way. In 1936 Hubble produced a classification system for galaxies that is used to this day, the Hubble sequence.
 Modern research
In 1944, Hendrik van de Hulst predicted microwave radiation at a wavelength of 21 cm resulting from interstellar atomic hydrogen gas; this radiation was observed in 1951. The radiation allowed for much improved study of the Milky Way Galaxy, since it is not affected by dust absorption and its Doppler shift can be used to map the motion of the gas in the Galaxy. These observations led to the postulation of a rotating bar structure in the center of the Galaxy. With improved radio telescopes, hydrogen gas could also be traced in other galaxies.
In the 1970s it was discovered in Vera Rubin‘s study of the rotation speed of gas in galaxies that the total visible mass (from the stars and gas) does not properly account for the speed of the rotating gas. This galaxy rotation problem is thought to be explained by the presence of large quantities of unseen dark matter.
Beginning in the 1990s, the Hubble Space Telescope yielded improved observations. Among other things, it established that the missing dark matter in our galaxy cannot solely consist of inherently faint and small stars. The Hubble Deep Field, an extremely long exposure of a relatively empty part of the sky, provided evidence that there are about 125 billion (1.25×1011) galaxies in the Universe. Improved technology in detecting the spectra invisible to humans (radio telescopes, infrared cameras, and x-ray telescopes) allow detection of other galaxies that are not detected by Hubble. Particularly, galaxy surveys in the Zone of Avoidance (the region of the sky blocked by the Milky Way) have revealed a number of new galaxies.
 Types and morphology
Galaxies come in three main types: ellipticals, spirals, and irregulars. A slightly more extensive description of galaxy types based on their appearance is given by the Hubble sequence. Since the Hubble sequence is entirely based upon visual morphological type, it may miss certain important characteristics of galaxies such as star formation rate (in starburst galaxies) and activity in the core (in active galaxies).
The Hubble classification system rates elliptical galaxies on the basis of their ellipticity, ranging from E0, being nearly spherical, up to E7, which is highly elongated. These galaxies have an ellipsoidal profile, giving them an elliptical appearance regardless of the viewing angle. Their appearance shows little structure and they typically have relatively little interstellar matter. Consequently these galaxies also have a low portion of open clusters and a reduced rate of new star formation. Instead they are dominated by generally older, more evolved stars that are orbiting the common center of gravity in random directions. The stars contain low abundances of heavy elements because star formation ceases after the initial burst. In this sense they have some similarity to the much smaller globular clusters.
The largest galaxies are giant ellipticals. Many elliptical galaxies are believed to form due to the interaction of galaxies, resulting in a collision and merger. They can grow to enormous sizes (compared to spiral galaxies, for example), and giant elliptical galaxies are often found near the core of large galaxy clusters. Starburst galaxies are the result of such a galactic collision that can result in the formation of an elliptical galaxy.
Spiral galaxies consist of a rotating disk of stars and interstellar medium, along with a central bulge of generally older stars. Extending outward from the bulge are relatively bright arms. In the Hubble classification scheme, spiral galaxies are listed as type S, followed by a letter (a, b, or c) that indicates the degree of tightness of the spiral arms and the size of the central bulge. An Sa galaxy has tightly wound, poorly defined arms and possesses a relatively large core region. At the other extreme, an Sc galaxy has open, well-defined arms and a small core region. A galaxy with poorly defined arms is sometimes referred to as a flocculent spiral galaxy; in contrast to the grand design spiral galaxy that has prominent and well-defined spiral arms.
In spiral galaxies, the spiral arms do have the shape of approximate logarithmic spirals, a pattern that can be theoretically shown to result from a disturbance in a uniformly rotating mass of stars. Like the stars, the spiral arms rotate around the center, but they do so with constant angular velocity. The spiral arms are thought to be areas of high-density matter, or “density waves“. As stars move through an arm, the space velocity of each stellar system is modified by the gravitational force of the higher density. (The velocity returns to normal after the stars depart on the other side of the arm.) This effect is akin to a “wave” of slowdowns moving along a highway full of moving cars. The arms are visible because the high density facilitates star formation, and therefore they harbor many bright and young stars.
A majority of spiral galaxies have a linear, bar-shaped band of stars that extends outward to either side of the core, then merges into the spiral arm structure. In the Hubble classification scheme, these are designated by an SB, followed by a lower-case letter (a, b or c) that indicates the form of the spiral arms (in the same manner as the categorization of normal spiral galaxies). Bars are thought to be temporary structures that can occur as a result of a density wave radiating outward from the core, or else due to a tidal interaction with another galaxy. Many barred spiral galaxies are active, possibly as a result of gas being channeled into the core along the arms.
Our own galaxy, the Milky Way, is a large disk-shaped barred-spiral galaxy about 30 kiloparsecs in diameter and a kiloparsec thick. It contains about two hundred billion (2×1011) stars and has a total mass of about six hundred billion (6×1011) times the mass of the Sun.
 Other morphologies
Peculiar galaxies are galactic formations that develop unusual properties due to tidal interactions with other galaxies. An example of this is the ring galaxy, which possesses a ring-like structure of stars and interstellar medium surrounding a bare core. A ring galaxy is thought to occur when a smaller galaxy passes through the core of a spiral galaxy. Such an event may have affected the Andromeda Galaxy, as it displays a multi-ring-like structure when viewed in infrared radiation.
A lenticular galaxy is an intermediate form that has properties of both elliptical and spiral galaxies. These are categorized as Hubble type S0, and they possess ill-defined spiral arms with an elliptical halo of stars. (Barred lenticular galaxies receive Hubble classification SB0.)
In addition to the classifications mentioned above, there are a number of galaxies that can not be readily classified into an elliptical or spiral morphology. These are categorized as irregular galaxies. An Irr-I galaxy has some structure but does not align cleanly with the Hubble classification scheme. Irr-II galaxies do not possess any structure that resembles a Hubble classification, and may have been disrupted. Nearby examples of (dwarf) irregular galaxies include the Magellanic Clouds.
Despite the prominence of large elliptical and spiral galaxies, most galaxies in the Universe appear to be dwarf galaxies. These galaxies are relatively small when compared with other galactic formations, being about one hundredth the size of the Milky Way, containing only a few billion stars. Ultra-compact dwarf galaxies have recently been discovered that are only 100 parsecs across.
Many dwarf galaxies may orbit a single larger galaxy; the Milky Way has at least a dozen such satellites, with an estimated 300–500 yet to be discovered. Dwarf galaxies may also be classified as elliptical, spiral, or irregular. Since small dwarf ellipticals bear little resemblance to large ellipticals, they are often called dwarf spheroidal galaxies instead.
A study of 27 Milky Way neighbors found that in all dwarf galaxies, the central mass is approximately 10 million solar masses, regardless of whether the galaxy has thousands or millions of stars. This has led to the suggestion that galaxies are largely formed by dark matter, and that the minimum size may indicate a form of warm dark matter incapable of gravitational coalescence on a smaller scale.
 Unusual dynamics and activities
The average separation between galaxies within a cluster is a little over an order of magnitude larger than their diameter. Hence interactions between these galaxies are relatively frequent, and play an important role in their evolution. Near misses between galaxies result in warping distortions due to tidal interactions, and may cause some exchange of gas and dust.
Collisions occur when two galaxies pass directly through each other and have sufficient relative momentum not to merge. The stars within these interacting galaxies will typically pass straight through without colliding. However, the gas and dust within the two forms will interact. This can trigger bursts of star formation as the interstellar medium becomes disrupted and compressed. A collision can severely distort the shape of one or both galaxies, forming bars, rings or tail-like structures.
At the extreme of interactions are galactic mergers. In this case the relative momentum of the two galaxies is insufficient to allow the galaxies to pass through each other. Instead, they gradually merge to form a single, larger galaxy. Mergers can result in significant changes to morphology, as compared to the original galaxies. In the case where one of the galaxies is much more massive, however, the result is known as cannibalism. In this case the larger galaxy will remain relatively undisturbed by the merger, while the smaller galaxy is torn apart. The Milky Way galaxy is currently in the process of cannibalizing the Sagittarius Dwarf Elliptical Galaxy and the Canis Major Dwarf Galaxy.
Stars are created within galaxies from a reserve of cold gas that forms into giant molecular clouds. Some galaxies have been observed to form stars at an exceptional rate, known as a starburst. Should they continue to do so, however, they would consume their reserve of gas in a time frame lower than the lifespan of the galaxy. Hence starburst activity usually lasts for only about ten million years, a relatively brief period in the history of a galaxy. Starburst galaxies were more common during the early history of the Universe, and, at present, still contribute an estimated 15% to the total star production rate.
Starburst galaxies are characterized by dusty concentrations of gas and the appearance of newly formed stars, including massive stars that ionize the surrounding clouds to create H II regions. These massive stars produce supernova explosions, resulting in expanding remnants that interact powerfully with the surrounding gas. These outbursts trigger a chain reaction of star building that spreads throughout the gaseous region. Only when the available gas is nearly consumed or dispersed does the starburst activity come to an end.
Starbursts are often associated with merging or interacting galaxies. The prototype example of such a starburst-forming interaction is M82, which experienced a close encounter with the larger M81. Irregular galaxies often exhibit spaced knots of starburst activity.
 Active nucleus
A portion of the galaxies we can observe are classified as active. That is, a significant portion of the total energy output from the galaxy is emitted by a source other than the stars, dust and interstellar medium.
The standard model for an active galactic nucleus is based upon an accretion disc that forms around a supermassive black hole (SMBH) at the core region. The radiation from an active galactic nucleus results from the gravitational energy of matter as it falls toward the black hole from the disc. In about 10% of these objects, a diametrically opposed pair of energetic jets ejects particles from the core at velocities close to the speed of light. The mechanism for producing these jets is still not well understood.
Active galaxies that emit high-energy radiation in the form of x-rays are classified as Seyfert galaxies or quasars, depending on the luminosity. Blazars are believed to be an active galaxy with a relativistic jet that is pointed in the direction of the Earth. A radio galaxy emits radio frequencies from relativistic jets. A unified model of these types of active galaxies explains their differences based on the viewing angle of the observer.
Possibly related to active galactic nuclei (as well as starburst regions) are low-ionization nuclear emission-line regions (LINERs). The emission from LINER-type galaxies is dominated by weakly ionized elements. Approximately one-third of nearby galaxies are classified as containing LINER nuclei.
 Formation and evolution
The study of galactic formation and evolution attempts to answer questions regarding how galaxies formed and their evolutionary path over the history of the Universe. Some theories in this field have now become widely accepted, but it is still an active area in astrophysics.
Current cosmological models of the early Universe are based on the Big Bang theory. About 300,000 years after this event, atoms of hydrogen and helium began to form, in an event called recombination. Nearly all the hydrogen was neutral (non-ionized) and readily absorbed light, and no stars had yet formed. As a result this period has been called the “Dark Ages“. It was from density fluctuations (or anisotropic irregularities) in this primordial matter that larger structures began to appear. As a result, masses of baryonic matter started to condense within cold dark matter halos. These primordial structures would eventually become the galaxies we see today.
Evidence for the early appearance of galaxies was found in 2006, when it was discovered that the galaxy IOK-1 has an unusually high redshift of 6.96, corresponding to just 750 million years after the Big Bang and making it the most distant and primordial galaxy yet seen. While some scientists have claimed other objects (such as Abell 1835 IR1916) have higher redshifts (and therefore are seen in an earlier stage of the Universe’s evolution), IOK-1′s age and composition have been more reliably established. The existence of such early protogalaxies suggests that they must have grown in the so-called “Dark Ages”.
The detailed process by which such early galaxy formation occurred is a major open question in astronomy. Theories could be divided into two categories: top-down and bottom-up. In top-down theories (such as the Eggen–Lynden-Bell–Sandage [ELS] model), protogalaxies form in a large-scale simultaneous collapse lasting about one hundred million years. In bottom-up theories (such as the Searle-Zinn [SZ] model), small structures such as globular clusters form first, and then a number of such bodies accrete to form a larger galaxy.
Once protogalaxies began to form and contract, the first halo stars (called Population III stars) appeared within them. These were composed almost entirely of hydrogen and helium, and may have been massive. If so, these huge stars would have quickly consumed their supply of fuel and became supernovae, releasing heavy elements into the interstellar medium. This first generation of stars re-ionized the surrounding neutral hydrogen, creating expanding bubbles of space through which light could readily travel.
Within a billion years of a galaxy’s formation, key structures begin to appear. Globular clusters, the central supermassive black hole, and a galactic bulge of metal-poor Population II stars form. The creation of a supermassive black hole appears to play a key role in actively regulating the growth of galaxies by limiting the total amount of additional matter added. During this early epoch, galaxies undergo a major burst of star formation.
During the following two billion years, the accumulated matter settles into a galactic disc. A galaxy will continue to absorb infalling material from high-velocity clouds and dwarf galaxies throughout its life. This matter is mostly hydrogen and helium. The cycle of stellar birth and death slowly increases the abundance of heavy elements, eventually allowing the formation of planets.
The evolution of galaxies can be significantly affected by interactions and collisions. Mergers of galaxies were common during the early epoch, and the majority of galaxies were peculiar in morphology. Given the distances between the stars, the great majority of stellar systems in colliding galaxies will be unaffected. However, gravitational stripping of the interstellar gas and dust that makes up the spiral arms produces a long train of stars known as tidal tails. Examples of these formations can be seen in NGC 4676 or the Antennae Galaxies.
As an example of such an interaction, the Milky Way galaxy and the nearby Andromeda Galaxy are moving toward each other at about 130 km/s, and—depending upon the lateral movements—the two may collide in about five to six billion years. Although the Milky Way has never collided with a galaxy as large as Andromeda before, evidence of past collisions of the Milky Way with smaller dwarf galaxies is increasing.
Such large-scale interactions are rare. As time passes, mergers of two systems of equal size become less common. Most bright galaxies have remained fundamentally unchanged for the last few billion years, and the net rate of star formation probably also peaked approximately ten billion years ago.
 Future trends
At present, most star formation occurs in smaller galaxies where cool gas is not so depleted. Spiral galaxies, like the Milky Way, only produce new generations of stars as long as they have dense molecular clouds of interstellar hydrogen in their spiral arms. Elliptical galaxies are already largely devoid of this gas, and so form no new stars. The supply of star-forming material is finite; once stars have converted the available supply of hydrogen into heavier elements, new star formation will come to an end.
The current era of star formation is expected to continue for up to one hundred billion years, and then the “stellar age” will wind down after about ten trillion to one hundred trillion years (1013–1014 years), as the smallest, longest-lived stars in our astrosphere, tiny red dwarfs, begin to fade. At the end of the stellar age, galaxies will be composed of compact objects: brown dwarfs, white dwarfs that are cooling or cold (“black dwarfs“), neutron stars, and black holes. Eventually, as a result of gravitational relaxation, all stars will either fall into central supermassive black holes or be flung into intergalactic space as a result of collisions.
 Larger-scale structures
Deep sky surveys show that galaxies are often found in relatively close association with other galaxies. Solitary galaxies that have not significantly interacted with another galaxy of comparable mass during the past billion years are relatively scarce. Only about 5% of the galaxies surveyed have been found to be truly isolated; however, these isolated formations may have interacted and even merged with other galaxies in the past, and may still be orbited by smaller, satellite galaxies. Isolated galaxies[note 2] can produce stars at a higher rate than normal, as their gas is not being stripped by other nearby galaxies.
On the largest scale, the Universe is continually expanding, resulting in an average increase in the separation between individual galaxies (see Hubble’s law). Associations of galaxies can overcome this expansion on a local scale through their mutual gravitational attraction. These associations formed early in the Universe, as clumps of dark matter pulled their respective galaxies together. Nearby groups later merged to form larger-scale clusters. This on-going merger process (as well as an influx of infalling gas) heats the inter-galactic gas within a cluster to very high temperatures, reaching 30–100 megakelvins. About 70–80% of the mass in a cluster is in the form of dark matter, with 10–30% consisting of this heated gas and the remaining few percent of the matter in the form of galaxies.
Most galaxies in the Universe are gravitationally bound to a number of other galaxies. These form a fractal-like hierarchy of clustered structures, with the smallest such associations being termed groups. A group of galaxies is the most common type of galactic cluster, and these formations contain a majority of the galaxies (as well as most of the baryonic mass) in the Universe. To remain gravitationally bound to such a group, each member galaxy must have a sufficiently low velocity to prevent it from escaping (see Virial theorem). If there is insufficient kinetic energy, however, the group may evolve into a smaller number of galaxies through mergers.
Larger structures containing many thousands of galaxies packed into an area a few megaparsecs across are called clusters. Clusters of galaxies are often dominated by a single giant elliptical galaxy, known as the brightest cluster galaxy, which, over time, tidally destroys its satellite galaxies and adds their mass to its own.
Superclusters contain tens of thousands of galaxies, which are found in clusters, groups and sometimes individually. At the supercluster scale, galaxies are arranged into sheets and filaments surrounding vast empty voids. Above this scale, the Universe appears to be isotropic and homogeneous.
The Milky Way galaxy is a member of an association named the Local Group, a relatively small group of galaxies that has a diameter of approximately one megaparsec. The Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy are the two brightest galaxies within the group; many of the other member galaxies are dwarf companions of these two galaxies. The Local Group itself is a part of a cloud-like structure within the Virgo Supercluster, a large, extended structure of groups and clusters of galaxies centered on the Virgo Cluster.
 Multi-wavelength observation
After galaxies external to the Milky Way were found to exist, initial observations were made mostly using visible light. The peak radiation of most stars lies here, so the observation of the stars that form galaxies has been a major component of optical astronomy. It is also a favorable portion of the spectrum for observing ionized H II regions, and for examining the distribution of dusty arms.
The dust present in the interstellar medium is opaque to visual light. It is more transparent to far-infrared, which can be used to observe the interior regions of giant molecular clouds and galactic cores in great detail. Infrared is also used to observe distant, red-shifted galaxies that were formed much earlier in the history of the Universe. Water vapor and carbon dioxide absorb a number of useful portions of the infrared spectrum, so high-altitude or space-based telescopes are used for infrared astronomy.
The first non-visual study of galaxies, particularly active galaxies, was made using radio frequencies. The atmosphere is nearly transparent to radio between 5 MHz and 30 GHz. (The ionosphere blocks signals below this range.) Large radio interferometers have been used to map the active jets emitted from active nuclei. Radio telescopes can also be used to observe neutral hydrogen (via 21 cm radiation), including, potentially, the non-ionized matter in the early Universe that later collapsed to form galaxies.
Ultraviolet and X-ray telescopes can observe highly energetic galactic phenomena. An ultraviolet flare was observed when a star in a distant galaxy was torn apart from the tidal forces of a black hole. The distribution of hot gas in galactic clusters can be mapped by X-rays. The existence of super-massive black holes at the cores of galaxies was confirmed through X-ray astronomy.
 See also
|Wikipedia books are collections of articles that can be downloaded or ordered in print.|
- Dark galaxy
- Galactic orientation
- Galaxy formation and evolution
- List of galaxies
- List of nearest galaxies
- Luminous infrared galaxy
- Supermassive black hole
- Timeline of knowledge about galaxies, clusters of galaxies, and large-scale structure
- Galaxies to the left side of the Hubble classification scheme are sometimes referred to as “early-type”, while those to the right are “late-type”.
- The term “field galaxy” is sometimes used to mean an isolated galaxy, although the same term is also used to describe galaxies that do not belong to a cluster but may be a member of a group of galaxies.
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A planet (from Ancient Greek αστήρ πλανήτης (astēr planētēs), meaning “wandering star”) is a celestial body orbiting a star or stellar remnant that is massive enough to be rounded by its own gravity, is not massive enough to cause thermonuclear fusion, and has cleared its neighbouring region of planetesimals.[a] The term planet is ancient, with ties to history, science, mythology, and religion. The planets were originally seen by many early cultures as divine, or as emissaries of deities. As scientific knowledge advanced, human perception of the planets changed, incorporating a number of disparate objects. In 2006, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) officially adopted a resolution defining planets within the Solar System. This definition has been both praised and criticized, and remains disputed by some scientists since it excludes many objects of planetary mass based on where or what they orbit. While eight of the planetary bodies discovered before 1950 remain “planets” under modern definition, some celestial bodies, such as Ceres, Pallas, Juno, Vesta (each an object in the Solar asteroid belt) and Pluto (the first-discovered trans-Neptunian object), that were once considered planets by the scientific community are no longer viewed as such.
The planets were thought by Ptolemy to orbit the Earth in deferent and epicycle motions. Although the idea that the planets orbited the Sun had been suggested many times, it was not until the 17th century that this view was supported by evidence from the first telescopic astronomical observations, performed by Galileo Galilei. By careful analysis of the observation data, Johannes Kepler found the planets’ orbits were not circular, but elliptical. As observational tools improved, astronomers saw that, like Earth, the planets rotated around tilted axes, and some shared such features as ice caps and seasons. Since the dawn of the Space Age, close observation by probes has found that Earth and the other planets share characteristics such as volcanism, hurricanes, tectonics, and even hydrology.
Planets are generally divided into two main types: large, low-density gas giants, and smaller, rocky terrestrials. Under IAU definitions, there are eight planets in the Solar System. In order of increasing distance from the Sun, they are the four terrestrials, Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars, then the four gas giants, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Six of the planets are orbited by one or more natural satellites. Additionally, the IAU accepts five dwarf planets, with many others under consideration, and hundreds of thousands of small Solar System bodies.
Since 1992, hundreds of planets around other stars (“extrasolar planets” or “exoplanets”) in the Milky Way Galaxy have been discovered. As of December 1, 2012, 853 known extrasolar planets (in 672 planetary systems and 126 multiple planetary systems) are listed in the Extrasolar Planets Encyclopaedia, ranging in size from that of terrestrial planets similar to Earth to that of gas giants larger than Jupiter. On December 20, 2011, the Kepler Space Telescope team reported the discovery of the first Earth-sized extrasolar planets, Kepler-20e and Kepler-20f, orbiting a Sun-like star, Kepler-20. A 2012 study, analyzing gravitational microlensing data, estimates an average of at least 1.6 bound planets for every star in the Milky Way.
The idea of planets has evolved over its history, from the divine wandering stars of antiquity to the earthly objects of the scientific age. The concept has expanded to include worlds not only in the Solar System, but in hundreds of other extrasolar systems. The ambiguities inherent in defining planets have led to much scientific controversy.
The five classical planets, being visible to the naked eye, have been known since ancient times, and have had a significant impact on mythology, religious cosmology, and ancient astronomy. In ancient times, astronomers noted how certain lights moved across the sky in relation to the other stars. Ancient Greeks called these lights πλάνητες ἀστέρες (planetes asteres “wandering stars”) or simply “πλανήτοι” (planētoi “wanderers”), from which today’s word “planet” was derived. In ancient Greece, China, Babylon and indeed all pre-modern civilizations, it was almost universally believed that Earth was in the center of the Universe and that all the “planets” circled the Earth. The reasons for this perception were that stars and planets appeared to revolve around the Earth each day, and the apparently common-sense perception that the Earth was solid and stable, and that it was not moving but at rest.
The first civilization known to possess a functional theory of the planets were the Babylonians, who lived in Mesopotamia in the first and second millennia BC. The oldest surviving planetary astronomical text is the Babylonian Venus tablet of Ammisaduqa, a 7th century BC copy of a list of observations of the motions of the planet Venus, that probably dates as early as the second millennium BC. The MUL.APIN is a pair of cuneiform tablets dating from the 7th century BC that lays out the motions of the Sun, Moon and planets over the course of the year. The Babylonian astrologers also laid the foundations of what would eventually become Western astrology. The Enuma anu enlil, written during the Neo-Assyrian period in the 7th century BC, comprises a list of omens and their relationships with various celestial phenomena including the motions of the planets. Venus, Mercury and the outer planets Mars, Jupiter and Saturn were all identified by Babylonian astronomers. These would remain the only known planets until the invention of the telescope in early modern times.
 Greco-Roman astronomy
The ancient Greeks initially did not attach as much significance to the planets as the Babylonians. The Pythagoreans, in the 6th and 5th centuries BC appear to have developed their own independent planetary theory, which consisted of the Earth, Sun, Moon, and planets revolving around a “Central Fire” at the center of the Universe. Pythagoras or Parmenides is said to have been the first to identify the evening star and morning star (Venus) as one and the same. In the 3rd century BC, Aristarchus of Samos proposed a heliocentric system, according to which the Earth and planets revolved around the sun. However, the geocentric system would remain dominant until the Scientific Revolution.
By the 1st century BC, during the Hellenistic period, the Greeks had begun to develop their own mathematical schemes for predicting the positions of the planets. These schemes, which were based on geometry rather than the arithmetic of the Babylonians, would eventually eclipse the Babylonians’ theories in complexity and comprehensiveness, and account for most of the astronomical movements observed from Earth with the naked eye. These theories would reach their fullest expression in the Almagest written by Ptolemy in the 2nd century CE. So complete was the domination of Ptolemy’s model that it superseded all previous works on astronomy and remained the definitive astronomical text in the Western world for 13 centuries. To the Greeks and Romans there were seven known planets, each presumed to be circling the Earth according to the complex laws laid out by Ptolemy. They were, in increasing order from Earth (in Ptolemy’s order): the Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.
In 499 CE, the Indian astronomer Aryabhata propounded a planetary model which explicitly incorporated the Earth’s rotation about its axis, which he explains as the cause of what appears to be an apparent westward motion of the stars. He also believed that the orbit of planets are elliptical. Aryabhata’s followers were particularly strong in South India, where his principles of the diurnal rotation of the earth, among others, were followed and a number of secondary works were based on them.
In 1500, Nilakantha Somayaji of the Kerala school of astronomy and mathematics, in his Tantrasangraha, revised Aryabhata’s model. In his Aryabhatiyabhasya, a commentary on Aryabhata’s Aryabhatiya, he developed a planetary model where Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn orbit the Sun, which in turn orbits the Earth, similar to the Tychonic system later proposed by Tycho Brahe in the late 16th century. Most astronomers of the Kerala school who followed him accepted his planetary model.
 Medieval Muslim astronomy
In the 11th century, the transit of Venus was observed by Avicenna, who established that Venus was, at least sometimes, below the Sun. In the 12th century, Ibn Bajjah observed “two planets as black spots on the face of the Sun”, which was later identified as a transit of Mercury and Venus by the Maragha astronomer Qotb al-Din Shirazi in the 13th century. However, Ibn Bajjah could not have observed a transit of Venus, as none occurred in his lifetime.
 European Renaissance
With the advent of the Scientific Revolution, understanding of the term “planet” changed from something that moved across the sky (in relation to the star field); to a body that orbited the Earth (or that were believed to do so at the time); and in the 16th century to something that directly orbited the Sun when the heliocentric model of Copernicus, Galileo and Kepler gained sway.
Thus, the Earth became included in the list of planets, while the Sun and Moon were excluded. At first, when the first satellites of Jupiter and Saturn were discovered in the 17th century, the terms “planet” and “satellite” were used interchangeably – although the latter would gradually become more prevalent in the following century. Until the mid-19th century, the number of “planets” rose rapidly since any newly discovered object directly orbiting the Sun was listed as a planet by the scientific community.
 19th century
In the 19th century astronomers began to realize that recently discovered bodies that had been classified as planets for almost half a century (such as Ceres, Pallas, and Vesta) were very different from the traditional ones. These bodies shared the same region of space between Mars and Jupiter (the asteroid belt), and had a much smaller mass; as a result they were reclassified as “asteroids“. In the absence of any formal definition, a “planet” came to be understood as any “large” body that orbited the Sun. Since there was a dramatic size gap between the asteroids and the planets, and the spate of new discoveries seemed to have ended after the discovery of Neptune in 1846, there was no apparent need to have a formal definition.
 20th century
However, in the 20th century, Pluto was discovered. After initial observations led to the belief it was larger than Earth, the object was immediately accepted as the ninth planet. Further monitoring found the body was actually much smaller: in 1936, Raymond Lyttleton suggested that Pluto may be an escaped satellite of Neptune, and Fred Whipple suggested in 1964 that Pluto may be a comet. However, as it was still larger than all known asteroids and seemingly did not exist within a larger population, it kept its status until 2006.
In 1992, astronomers Aleksander Wolszczan and Dale Frail announced the discovery of planets around a pulsar, PSR B1257+12. This discovery is generally considered to be the first definitive detection of a planetary system around another star. Then, on October 6, 1995, Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz of the University of Geneva announced the first definitive detection of an exoplanet orbiting an ordinary main-sequence star (51 Pegasi).
The discovery of extrasolar planets led to another ambiguity in defining a planet; the point at which a planet becomes a star. Many known extrasolar planets are many times the mass of Jupiter, approaching that of stellar objects known as “brown dwarfs“. Brown dwarfs are generally considered stars due to their ability to fuse deuterium, a heavier isotope of hydrogen. While stars more massive than 75 times that of Jupiter fuse hydrogen, stars of only 13 Jupiter masses can fuse deuterium. However, deuterium is quite rare, and most brown dwarfs would have ceased fusing deuterium long before their discovery, making them effectively indistinguishable from supermassive planets.
 21st century
With the discovery during the latter half of the 20th century of more objects within the Solar System and large objects around other stars, disputes arose over what should constitute a planet. There were particular disagreements over whether an object should be considered a planet if it was part of a distinct population such as a belt, or if it was large enough to generate energy by the thermonuclear fusion of deuterium.
A growing number of astronomers argued for Pluto to be declassified as a planet, since many similar objects approaching its size had been found in the same region of the Solar System (the Kuiper belt) during the 1990s and early 2000s. Pluto was found to be just one small body in a population of thousands.
Some of them including Quaoar, Sedna, and Eris were heralded in the popular press as the tenth planet, failing however to receive widespread scientific recognition. The announcement of Eris in 2005, an object 27% more massive than Pluto, created the necessity and public desire for an official definition of a planet.
Acknowledging the problem, the IAU set about creating the definition of planet, and produced one in August 2006. The number of planets dropped to the eight significantly larger bodies that had cleared their orbit (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune), and a new class of dwarf planets was created, initially containing three objects (Ceres, Pluto and Eris).
 Extrasolar planet definition
In 2003, The International Astronomical Union (IAU) Working Group on Extrasolar Planets made a position statement on the definition of a planet that incorporated the following working definition, mostly focused upon the boundary between planets and brown dwarfs:
- Objects with true masses below the limiting mass for thermonuclear fusion of deuterium (currently calculated to be 13 times the mass of Jupiter for objects with the same isotopic abundance as the Sun) that orbit stars or stellar remnants are “planets” (no matter how they formed). The minimum mass and size required for an extrasolar object to be considered a planet should be the same as that used in the Solar System.
- Substellar objects with true masses above the limiting mass for thermonuclear fusion of deuterium are “brown dwarfs“, no matter how they formed or where they are located.
- Free-floating objects in young star clusters with masses below the limiting mass for thermonuclear fusion of deuterium are not “planets”, but are “sub-brown dwarfs” (or whatever name is most appropriate).
This definition has since been widely used by astronomers when publishing discoveries of exoplanets in academic journals. Although temporary, it remains an effective working definition until a more permanent one is formally adopted. However, it does not address the dispute over the lower mass limit, and so it steered clear of the controversy regarding objects within the Solar System. This definition also makes no comment on the planetary status of objects orbiting brown dwarfs, such as 2M1207b.
One definition of a sub-brown dwarf is a planet-mass object that formed through cloud-collapse rather than accretion. This formation distinction between a sub-brown dwarf and a planet is not universally agreed upon; astronomers are divided into two camps as whether to consider the formation process of a planet as part of its division in classification. One reason for the dissent is that oftentimes, it may not be possible to determine the formation process: for example an accretion-formed planet around a star may get ejected from the system to become free-floating, and likewise a cloud-collapse-formed sub-brown dwarf formed on its own in a star cluster may get captured into orbit around a star.
The 13 Jupiter-mass cutoff is a rule of thumb rather than something of precise physical significance. The question arises: what is meant by deuterium burning? This question arises because large objects will burn most of their deuterium and smaller ones will burn only a little, and the 13 MJ value is somewhere in between. The amount of deuterium burnt depends not only on mass but also on the composition of the planet, on the amount of helium and deuterium present.
Another criterion for separating planets and brown dwarfs, rather than deuterium burning, formation process or location is whether the core pressure is dominated by coulomb pressure or electron degeneracy pressure.
 2006 definition
The matter of the lower limit was addressed during the 2006 meeting of the IAU’s General Assembly. After much debate and one failed proposal, the assembly voted to pass a resolution that defined planets within the Solar System as:
A celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and (c) has cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit.
Under this definition, the Solar System is considered to have eight planets. Bodies which fulfill the first two conditions but not the third (such as Pluto, Makemake and Eris) are classified as dwarf planets, provided they are not also natural satellites of other planets. Originally an IAU committee had proposed a definition that would have included a much larger number of planets as it did not include (c) as a criterion. After much discussion, it was decided via a vote that those bodies should instead be classified as dwarf planets.
This definition is based in theories of planetary formation, in which planetary embryos initially clear their orbital neighborhood of other smaller objects. As described by astronomer Steven Soter:
The end product of secondary disk accretion is a small number of relatively large bodies (planets) in either non-intersecting or resonant orbits, which prevent collisions between them. Minor planets and comets, including KBOs [Kuiper belt objects], differ from planets in that they can collide with each other and with planets.
In the aftermath of the IAU’s 2006 vote, there has been controversy and debate about the definition, and many astronomers have stated that they will not use it. Part of the dispute centres around the belief that point (c) (clearing its orbit) should not have been listed, and that those objects now categorised as dwarf planets should actually be part of a broader planetary definition.
Beyond the scientific community, Pluto has held a strong cultural significance for many in the general public considering its planetary status since its discovery in 1930. The discovery of Eris was widely reported in the media as the tenth planet and therefore the reclassification of all three objects as dwarf planets has attracted a lot of media and public attention as well.
 Former classifications
The table below lists Solar System bodies formerly considered to be planets:
|Body (current classification)||Notes|
|Sun||The Moon||Classified as planets in antiquity, in accordance with the now disproved geocentric model.|
|Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto||The four largest moons of Jupiter, known as the Galilean moons after their discoverer Galileo Galilei. He referred to them as the “Medicean Planets” in honor of his patron, the Medici family.|
|Titan,[b] Iapetus,[c] Rhea,[c] Tethys,[d] and Dione[d]||Five of Saturn’s larger moons, discovered by Christiaan Huygens and Giovanni Domenico Cassini.|
|Ceres[e]||Pallas, Juno, and Vesta||The first known asteroids, from their discoveries between 1801 and 1807 until their reclassification as asteroids during the 1850s.
Ceres has subsequently been classified as a dwarf planet in 2006.
|Astrea, Hebe, Iris, Flora, Metis, Hygeia, Parthenope, Victoria, Egeria, Irene, Eunomia||More asteroids, discovered between 1845 and 1851. The rapidly expanding list of planets prompted their reclassification as asteroids by astronomers, and this was widely accepted by 1854.|
|Pluto[f]||The first known trans-Neptunian object (i.e. minor planet with a semi-major axis beyond Neptune). In 2006, Pluto was reclassified as a dwarf planet.|
|Eris||Discovered in 2003, this trans-Neptunian object (i.e. minor planet with a semi-major axis beyond Neptune) was recognized in 2005, before, like Pluto, in 2006 getting classified as a dwarf planet.|
 Mythology and naming
The names for the planets in the Western world are derived from the naming practices of the Romans, which ultimately derive from those of the Greeks and the Babylonians. In ancient Greece, the two great luminaries the Sun and the Moon were called Helios and Selene; the farthest planet was called Phainon, the shiner; followed by Phaethon, “bright”; the red planet was known as Pyroeis, the “fiery”; the brightest was known as Phosphoros, the light bringer; and the fleeting final planet was called Stilbon, the gleamer. The Greeks also made each planet sacred to one among their pantheon of gods, the Olympians: Helios and Selene were the names of both planets and gods; Phainon was sacred to Cronus, the Titan who fathered the Olympians; Phaethon was sacred to Zeus, Cronus’s son who deposed him as king; Pyroeis was given to Ares, son of Zeus and god of war; Phosphoros was ruled by Aphrodite, the goddess of love; and Hermes, messenger of the gods and god of learning and wit, ruled over Stilbon.
The Greek practice of grafting of their gods’ names onto the planets was almost certainly borrowed from the Babylonians. The Babylonians named Phosphoros after their goddess of love, Ishtar; Pyroeis after their god of war, Nergal, Stilbon after their god of wisdom Nabu, and Phaethon after their chief god, Marduk. There are too many concordances between Greek and Babylonian naming conventions for them to have arisen separately. The translation was not perfect. For instance, the Babylonian Nergal was a god of war, and thus the Greeks identified him with Ares. However, unlike Ares, Nergal was also god of pestilence and the underworld.
Today, most people in the western world know the planets by names derived from the Olympian pantheon of gods. While modern Greeks still use their ancient names for the planets, other European languages, because of the influence of the Roman Empire and, later, the Catholic Church, use the Roman (or Latin) names rather than the Greek ones. The Romans, who, like the Greeks, were Indo-Europeans, shared with them a common pantheon under different names but lacked the rich narrative traditions that Greek poetic culture had given their gods. During the later period of the Roman Republic, Roman writers borrowed much of the Greek narratives and applied them to their own pantheon, to the point where they became virtually indistinguishable. When the Romans studied Greek astronomy, they gave the planets their own gods’ names: Mercurius (for Hermes), Venus (Aphrodite), Mars (Ares), Iuppiter (Zeus) and Saturnus (Cronus). When subsequent planets were discovered in the 18th and 19th centuries, the naming practice was retained with Neptūnus (Poseidon). Uranus is unique in that it is named for a Greek deity rather than his Roman counterpart.
Some Romans, following a belief possibly originating in Mesopotamia but developed in Hellenistic Egypt, believed that the seven gods after whom the planets were named took hourly shifts in looking after affairs on Earth. The order of shifts went Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury, Moon (from the farthest to the closest planet). Therefore, the first day was started by Saturn (1st hour), second day by Sun (25th hour), followed by Moon (49th hour), Mars, Mercury, Jupiter and Venus. Since each day was named by the god that started it, this is also the order of the days of the week in the Roman calendar after the Nundinal cycle was rejected – and still preserved in many modern languages. Sunday, Monday, and Saturday are straightforward translations of these Roman names. In English the other days were renamed after Tiw, (Tuesday) Wóden (Wednesday), Thunor (Thursday), and Fríge (Friday), the Anglo-Saxon gods considered similar or equivalent to Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, and Venus respectively.
Earth is the only planet whose name in English is not derived from Greco-Roman mythology. Since it was only generally accepted as a planet in the 17th century, there is no tradition of naming it after a god (the same is true, in English at least, of the Sun and the Moon, though they are no longer considered planets). The name originates from the 8th century Anglo-Saxon word erda, which means ground or soil and was first used in writing as the name of the sphere of the Earth perhaps around 1300. As with its equivalents in the other Germanic languages, it derives ultimately from the Proto-Germanic word ertho, “ground”, as can be seen in the English Earth, the German Erde, the Dutch Aarde, and the Scandinavian Jord. Many of the Romance languages retain the old Roman word terra (or some variation of it) that was used with the meaning of “dry land” (as opposed to “sea”). However, the non-Romance languages use their own respective native words. The Greeks retain their original name, Γή (Ge or Yi).
Non-European cultures use other planetary naming systems. India uses a naming system based on the Navagraha, which incorporates the seven traditional planets (Surya for the Sun, Chandra for the Moon, and Budha, Shukra, Mangala, Bṛhaspati and Shani for the traditional planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn) and the ascending and descending lunar nodes Rahu and Ketu. China and the countries of eastern Asia historically subject to Chinese cultural influence (such as Japan, Korea and Vietnam) use a naming system based on the five Chinese elements: water (Mercury), metal (Venus), fire (Mars), wood (Jupiter) and earth (Saturn).
It is not known with certainty how planets are formed. The prevailing theory is that they are formed during the collapse of a nebula into a thin disk of gas and dust. A protostar forms at the core, surrounded by a rotating protoplanetary disk. Through accretion (a process of sticky collision) dust particles in the disk steadily accumulate mass to form ever-larger bodies. Local concentrations of mass known as planetesimals form, and these accelerate the accretion process by drawing in additional material by their gravitational attraction. These concentrations become ever denser until they collapse inward under gravity to form protoplanets. After a planet reaches a diameter larger than the Earth’s moon, it begins to accumulate an extended atmosphere, greatly increasing the capture rate of the planetesimals by means of atmospheric drag.
When the protostar has grown such that it ignites to form a star, the surviving disk is removed from the inside outward by photoevaporation, the solar wind, Poynting–Robertson drag and other effects. Thereafter there still may be many protoplanets orbiting the star or each other, but over time many will collide, either to form a single larger planet or release material for other larger protoplanets or planets to absorb. Those objects that have become massive enough will capture most matter in their orbital neighbourhoods to become planets. Meanwhile, protoplanets that have avoided collisions may become natural satellites of planets through a process of gravitational capture, or remain in belts of other objects to become either dwarf planets or small bodies.
The energetic impacts of the smaller planetesimals (as well as radioactive decay) will heat up the growing planet, causing it to at least partially melt. The interior of the planet begins to differentiate by mass, developing a denser core. Smaller terrestrial planets lose most of their atmospheres because of this accretion, but the lost gases can be replaced by outgassing from the mantle and from the subsequent impact of comets. (Smaller planets will lose any atmosphere they gain through various escape mechanisms.)
With the discovery and observation of planetary systems around stars other than our own, it is becoming possible to elaborate, revise or even replace this account. The level of metallicity – an astronomical term describing the abundance of chemical elements with an atomic number greater than 2 (helium) – is now believed to determine the likelihood that a star will have planets. Hence, it is thought that a metal-rich population I star will likely possess a more substantial planetary system than a metal-poor, population II star.
 Solar System
Jupiter is the largest, at 318 Earth masses, while Mercury is smallest, at 0.055 Earth masses.
The planets of the Solar System can be divided into categories based on their composition:
- Terrestrials: Planets that are similar to Earth, with bodies largely composed of rock: Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. At 0.055 Earth masses, Mercury is the smallest terrestrial planet (and smallest planet) in the Solar System, while Earth is the largest terrestrial planet.
- Gas giants (Jovians): Planets largely composed of gaseous material and significantly more massive than terrestrials: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune. Jupiter, at 318 Earth masses, is the largest planet in the Solar System, while Saturn is one third as big, at 95 Earth masses.
- Ice giants, comprising Uranus and Neptune, are a sub-class of gas giants, distinguished from gas giants by their significantly lower mass (only 14 and 17 Earth masses), and by depletion in hydrogen and helium in their atmospheres together with a significantly higher proportion of rock and ice.
- Dwarf planets: Before the August 2006 decision, several objects were proposed by astronomers, including at one stage by the IAU, as planets. However in 2006 several of these objects were reclassified as dwarf planets, objects distinct from planets. Currently five dwarf planets in the Solar System are recognized by the IAU: Ceres, Pluto, Haumea, Makemake and Eris. Several other objects in both the asteroid belt and the Kuiper belt are under consideration, with as many as 50 that could eventually qualify. There may be as many as 200 that could be discovered once the Kuiper belt has been fully explored. Dwarf planets share many of the same characteristics as planets, although notable differences remain – namely that they are not dominant in their orbits. By definition, all dwarf planets are members of larger populations. Ceres is the largest body in the asteroid belt, while Pluto, Haumea, and Makemake are members of the Kuiper belt and Eris is a member of the scattered disc. Scientists such as Mike Brown believe that there are probably over one hundred trans-Neptunian objects that qualify as dwarf planets under the IAU’s recent definition.
 Planetary attributes
to Sun’s equator (°)
|Gas giant||Jupiter||11.209||317.8||5.20||11.86||6.09||0.048||0.41||67||yes||H2, He|
|Dwarf planet||Ceres||0.08||0.000 2||2.5–3.0||4.60||10.59||0.080||0.38||0||no||none|
|Makemake||~0.12||0.000 7||38.5–53.1||309.88||28.96||0.159||?||0||?||? [d]|
|Eris||0.19||0.002 5||37.8–97.6||~557||44.19||0.442||~0.3||1||?||? [d]|
 Extrasolar planets
In early 1992, radio astronomers Aleksander Wolszczan and Dale Frail announced the discovery of two planets orbiting the pulsar PSR 1257+12. This discovery was confirmed, and is generally considered to be the first definitive detection of exoplanets. These pulsar planets are believed to have formed from the unusual remnants of the supernova that produced the pulsar, in a second round of planet formation, or else to be the remaining rocky cores of gas giants that survived the supernova and then decayed into their current orbits.
The first confirmed discovery of an extrasolar planet orbiting an ordinary main-sequence star occurred on 6 October 1995, when Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz of the University of Geneva announced the detection of an exoplanet around 51 Pegasi. Of the 853 extrasolar planets discovered by December 1, 2012, most have masses which are comparable to or larger than Jupiter’s, though masses ranging from just below that of Mercury to many times Jupiter’s mass have been observed. The smallest extrasolar planets found to date have been discovered orbiting burned-out star remnants called pulsars, such as PSR B1257+12.
Another new category are the so-called “super-Earths“, possibly terrestrial planets larger than Earth but smaller than Neptune or Uranus. To date, about twenty possible super-Earths (depending on mass limits) have been found, including OGLE-2005-BLG-390Lb and MOA-2007-BLG-192Lb, frigid icy worlds discovered through gravitational microlensing, Kepler 10b, a planet with a diameter roughly 1.4 times that of Earth, (making it the smallest super-Earth yet measured) and five of the six planets orbiting the nearby red dwarf Gliese 581. Gliese 581 d is roughly 7.7 times Earth’s mass, while Gliese 581 c is five times Earth’s mass and was initially thought to be the first terrestrial planet found within a star’s habitable zone. However, more detailed studies revealed that it was slightly too close to its star to be habitable, and that the farther planet in the system, Gliese 581 d, though it is much colder than Earth, could potentially be habitable if its atmosphere contained sufficient amounts of greenhouse gases. Another super-Earth, Kepler-22b, was later confirmed to be orbiting comfortably within the habitable zone of its star. On December 20, 2011, the Kepler Space Telescope team reported the discovery of the first Earth-size extrasolar planets, Kepler-20e and Kepler-20f, orbiting a Sun-like star, Kepler-20.
It is far from clear if the newly discovered large planets would resemble the gas giants in the Solar System or if they are of an entirely different type as yet unknown, like ammonia giants or carbon planets. In particular, some of the newly discovered planets, known as hot Jupiters, orbit extremely close to their parent stars, in nearly circular orbits. They therefore receive much more stellar radiation than the gas giants in the Solar System, which makes it questionable whether they are the same type of planet at all. Also, a class of hot Jupiters may exist called Chthonian planets, that orbit so close to their star that their atmospheres have been blown away completely by stellar radiation. While many hot Jupiters have been found in the process of losing their atmospheres, as of 2008, no genuine Chthonian planets have been discovered.
More detailed observation of extrasolar planets will require a new generation of instruments, including space telescopes. Currently the COROT and Kepler spacecraft are searching for stellar luminosity variations due to transiting planets. Several projects have also been proposed to create an array of space telescopes to search for extrasolar planets with masses comparable to the Earth. These include the proposed NASA’s, Terrestrial Planet Finder, and Space Interferometry Mission programs, and the CNES’ PEGASE. The New Worlds Mission is an occulting device that may work in conjunction with the James Webb Space Telescope. However, funding for some of these projects remains uncertain. The first spectra of extrasolar planets were reported in February 2007 (HD 209458 b and HD 189733 b). The frequency of occurrence of such terrestrial planets is one of the variables in the Drake equation which estimates the number of intelligent, communicating civilizations that exist in our galaxy.
 Planetary-mass objects
A planetary-mass object, PMO, or planemo is a celestial object with a mass that falls within the range of the definition of a planet: massive enough to achieve hydrostatic equilibrium (to be rounded under its own gravity), but not enough to sustain core fusion like a star. By definition, all planets are planetary-mass objects, but the purpose of the term is to describe objects which do not conform to typical expectations for a planet. These include dwarf planets, the larger moons, free-floating planets not orbiting a star, such as rogue planets ejected from their system, and objects that formed through cloud-collapse rather than accretion (sometimes called sub-brown dwarfs).
 Rogue planets
Several computer simulations of stellar and planetary system formation have suggested that some objects of planetary mass would be ejected into interstellar space. Some scientists have argued that such objects found roaming in deep space should be classed as “planets”, although others have suggested that they could be low-mass stars.
 Sub-brown dwarfs
Stars form via the gravitational collapse of gas clouds, but smaller objects can also form via cloud-collapse. Planetary-mass objects formed this way are sometimes called sub-brown dwarfs. Sub-brown dwarfs may be free-floating such as Cha 110913-773444, or orbiting a larger object such as 2MASS J04414489+2301513.
For a brief time in 2006, astronomers believed they had found a binary system of such objects, Oph 162225-240515, which the discoverers described as “planemos”, or “planetary-mass objects”. However, recent analysis of the objects has determined that their masses are probably each greater than 13 Jupiter-masses, making the pair brown dwarfs.
 Former stars
In close binary star systems one of the stars can lose mass to a heavier companion. See accretion-powered pulsars. The shrinking star can then become a planetary-mass object. An example is a Jupiter-mass object orbiting the pulsar PSR J1719-1438.
 Satellite planets and belt planets
Some large satellites are of similar size or larger than the planet Mercury, e.g. Jupiter’s Galilean moons and Titan. Alan Stern has argued that location should not matter and that only geophysical attributes should be taken into account in the definition of a planet, and proposes the term satellite planet for a planet-sized satellite. Likewise, dwarf planets in the asteroid belt and Kuiper belt should be considered planets according to Stern.
Although each planet has unique physical characteristics, a number of broad commonalities do exist among them. Some of these characteristics, such as rings or natural satellites, have only as yet been observed in planets in the Solar System, whilst others are also commonly observed in extrasolar planets.
 Dynamic characteristics
According to current definitions, all planets must revolve around stars; thus, any potential “rogue planets” are excluded. In the Solar System, all the planets orbit the Sun in the same direction as the Sun rotates (counter-clockwise as seen from above the Sun’s north pole). At least one extrasolar planet, WASP-17b, has been found to orbit in the opposite direction to its star’s rotation. The period of one revolution of a planet’s orbit is known as its sidereal period or year. A planet’s year depends on its distance from its star; the farther a planet is from its star, not only the longer the distance it must travel, but also the slower its speed, as it is less affected by the star’s gravity. Because no planet’s orbit is perfectly circular, the distance of each varies over the course of its year. The closest approach to its star is called its periastron (perihelion in the Solar System), while its farthest separation from the star is called its apastron (aphelion). As a planet approaches periastron, its speed increases as it trades gravitational potential energy for kinetic energy, just as a falling object on Earth accelerates as it falls; as the planet reaches apastron, its speed decreases, just as an object thrown upwards on Earth slows down as it reaches the apex of its trajectory.
Each planet’s orbit is delineated by a set of elements:
- The eccentricity of an orbit describes how elongated a planet’s orbit is. Planets with low eccentricities have more circular orbits, while planets with high eccentricities have more elliptical orbits. The planets in the Solar System have very low eccentricities, and thus nearly circular orbits. Comets and Kuiper belt objects (as well as several extrasolar planets) have very high eccentricities, and thus exceedingly elliptical orbits.
The semi-major axis is the distance from a planet to the half-way point along the longest diameter of its elliptical orbit (see image). This distance is not the same as its apastron, as no planet’s orbit has its star at its exact centre.
- The inclination of a planet tells how far above or below an established reference plane its orbit lies. In the Solar System, the reference plane is the plane of Earth’s orbit, called the ecliptic. For extrasolar planets, the plane, known as the sky plane or plane of the sky, is the plane of the observer’s line of sight from Earth. The eight planets of the Solar System all lie very close to the ecliptic; comets and Kuiper belt objects like Pluto are at far more extreme angles to it. The points at which a planet crosses above and below its reference plane are called its ascending and descending nodes. The longitude of the ascending node is the angle between the reference plane’s 0 longitude and the planet’s ascending node. The argument of periapsis (or perihelion in the Solar System) is the angle between a planet’s ascending node and its closest approach to its star.
 Axial tilt
Planets also have varying degrees of axial tilt; they lie at an angle to the plane of their stars’ equators. This causes the amount of light received by each hemisphere to vary over the course of its year; when the northern hemisphere points away from its star, the southern hemisphere points towards it, and vice versa. Each planet therefore possesses seasons; changes to the climate over the course of its year. The time at which each hemisphere points farthest or nearest from its star is known as its solstice. Each planet has two in the course of its orbit; when one hemisphere has its summer solstice, when its day is longest, the other has its winter solstice, when its day is shortest. The varying amount of light and heat received by each hemisphere creates annual changes in weather patterns for each half of the planet. Jupiter’s axial tilt is very small, so its seasonal variation is minimal; Uranus, on the other hand, has an axial tilt so extreme it is virtually on its side, which means that its hemispheres are either perpetually in sunlight or perpetually in darkness around the time of its solstices. Among extrasolar planets, axial tilts are not known for certain, though most hot Jupiters are believed to possess negligible to no axial tilt, as a result of their proximity to their stars.
The planets rotate around invisible axes through their centres. A planet’s rotation period is known as a stellar day. Most of the planets in the Solar System rotate in the same direction as they orbit the Sun, which is counter-clockwise as seen from above the sun’s north pole, the exceptions being Venus and Uranus which rotate clockwise, though Uranus’s extreme axial tilt means there are differing conventions on which of its poles is “north”, and therefore whether it is rotating clockwise or anti-clockwise. However, regardless of which convention is used, Uranus has a retrograde rotation relative to its orbit.
The rotation of a planet can be induced by several factors during formation. A net angular momentum can be induced by the individual angular momentum contributions of accreted objects. The accretion of gas by the gas giants can also contribute to the angular momentum. Finally, during the last stages of planet building, a stochastic process of protoplanetary accretion can randomly alter the spin axis of the planet. There is great variation in the length of day between the planets, with Venus taking 243 Earth days to rotate, and the gas giants only a few hours. The rotational periods of extrasolar planets are not known; however their proximity to their stars means that hot Jupiters are tidally locked (their orbits are in sync with their rotations). This means they only ever show one face to their stars, with one side in perpetual day, the other in perpetual night.
 Orbital clearing
The defining dynamic characteristic of a planet is that it has cleared its neighborhood. A planet that has cleared its neighborhood has accumulated enough mass to gather up or sweep away all the planetesimals in its orbit. In effect, it orbits its star in isolation, as opposed to sharing its orbit with a multitude of similar-sized objects. This characteristic was mandated as part of the IAU‘s official definition of a planet in August, 2006. This criterion excludes such planetary bodies as Pluto, Eris and Ceres from full-fledged planethood, making them instead dwarf planets. Although to date this criterion only applies to the Solar System, a number of young extrasolar systems have been found in which evidence suggests orbital clearing is taking place within their circumstellar discs.
 Physical characteristics
A planet’s defining physical characteristic is that it is massive enough for the force of its own gravity to dominate over the electromagnetic forces binding its physical structure, leading to a state of hydrostatic equilibrium. This effectively means that all planets are spherical or spheroidal. Up to a certain mass, an object can be irregular in shape, but beyond that point, which varies depending on the chemical makeup of the object, gravity begins to pull an object towards its own centre of mass until the object collapses into a sphere.
Mass is also the prime attribute by which planets are distinguished from stars. The upper mass limit for planethood is roughly 13 times Jupiter’s mass for objects with solar-type isotopic abundance, beyond which it achieves conditions suitable for nuclear fusion. Other than the Sun, no objects of such mass exist in the Solar System; but there are exoplanets of this size. The 13MJ limit is not universally agreed upon and the Extrasolar Planets Encyclopaedia includes objects up to 20 Jupiter masses, and the Exoplanet Data Explorer up to 24 Jupiter masses.
The smallest known planet, excluding dwarf planets and satellites, is PSR B1257+12A, one of the first extrasolar planets discovered, which was found in 1992 in orbit around a pulsar. Its mass is roughly half that of the planet Mercury. The smallest planet orbiting a main-sequence star other than the Sun is Kepler-20e, with a mass roughly similar to that of Venus.
 Internal differentiation
Every planet began its existence in an entirely fluid state; in early formation, the denser, heavier materials sank to the centre, leaving the lighter materials near the surface. Each therefore has a differentiated interior consisting of a dense planetary core surrounded by a mantle which either is or was a fluid. The terrestrial planets are sealed within hard crusts, but in the gas giants the mantle simply dissolves into the upper cloud layers. The terrestrial planets possess cores of magnetic elements such as iron and nickel, and mantles of silicates. Jupiter and Saturn are believed to possess cores of rock and metal surrounded by mantles of metallic hydrogen. Uranus and Neptune, which are smaller, possess rocky cores surrounded by mantles of water, ammonia, methane and other ices. The fluid action within these planets’ cores creates a geodynamo that generates a magnetic field.
All of the Solar System planets except Mercury have substantial atmospheres as their large masses mean gravity is strong enough to keep gases close to the surface. The larger gas giants are massive enough to keep large amounts of the light gases hydrogen and helium close by, while the smaller planets lose these gases into space. The composition of the Earth’s atmosphere is different from the other planets because the various life processes that have transpired on the planet have introduced free molecular oxygen.
Planetary atmospheres are affected by the varying insolation or internal energy, leading to the formation of dynamic weather systems such as hurricanes, (on Earth), planet-wide dust storms (on Mars), an Earth-sized anticyclone on Jupiter (called the Great Red Spot), and holes in the atmosphere (on Neptune). At least one extrasolar planet, HD 189733 b, has been claimed to possess such a weather system, similar to the Great Red Spot but twice as large.
Hot Jupiters, due to their extreme proximities to their host stars, have been shown to be losing their atmospheres into space due to stellar radiation, much like the tails of comets. These planets may have vast differences in temperature between their day and night sides which produce supersonic winds, although the day and night sides of HD 189733 b appear to have very similar temperatures, indicating that that planet’s atmosphere effectively redistributes the star’s energy around the planet.
One important characteristic of the planets is their intrinsic magnetic moments which in turn give rise to magnetospheres. The presence of a magnetic field indicates that the planet is still geologically alive. In other words, magnetized planets have flows of electrically conducting material in their interiors, which generate their magnetic fields. These fields significantly change the interaction of the planet and solar wind. A magnetized planet creates a cavity in the solar wind around itself called magnetosphere, which the wind cannot penetrate. The magnetosphere can be much larger than the planet itself. In contrast, non-magnetized planets have only small magnetospheres induced by interaction of the ionosphere with the solar wind, which cannot effectively protect the planet.
Of the eight planets in the Solar System, only Venus and Mars lack such a magnetic field. In addition, the moon of Jupiter Ganymede also has one. Of the magnetized planets the magnetic field of Mercury is the weakest, and is barely able to deflect the solar wind. Ganymede’s magnetic field is several times larger, and Jupiter’s is the strongest in the Solar System (so strong in fact that it poses a serious health risk to future manned missions to its moons). The magnetic fields of the other giant planets are roughly similar in strength to that of Earth, but their magnetic moments are significantly larger. The magnetic fields of Uranus and Neptune are strongly tilted relative the rotational axis and displaced from the centre of the planet.
In 2004, a team of astronomers in Hawaii observed an extrasolar planet around the star HD 179949, which appeared to be creating a sunspot on the surface of its parent star. The team hypothesised that the planet’s magnetosphere was transferring energy onto the star’s surface, increasing its already high 7,760 °C temperature by an additional 400 °C.
 Secondary characteristics
Several planets or dwarf planets in the Solar System (such as Neptune and Pluto) have orbital periods that are in resonance with each other or with smaller bodies (this is also common in satellite systems). All except Mercury and Venus have natural satellites, often called “moons”. Earth has one, Mars has two, and the gas giants have numerous moons in complex planetary-type systems. Many gas giant moons have similar features to the terrestrial planets and dwarf planets, and some have been studied as possible abodes of life (especially Europa).
The four gas giants are also orbited by planetary rings of varying size and complexity. The rings are composed primarily of dust or particulate matter, but can host tiny ‘moonlets‘ whose gravity shapes and maintains their structure. Although the origins of planetary rings is not precisely known, they are believed to be the result of natural satellites that fell below their parent planet’s Roche limit and were torn apart by tidal forces.
No secondary characteristics have been observed around extrasolar planets. However the sub-brown dwarf Cha 110913-773444, which has been described as a rogue planet, is believed to be orbited by a tiny protoplanetary disc.
 Related terms
- Double planet
- Dwarf planet
- Extrasolar planet (or Exoplanet) – celestial body outside the Solar System
 See also
- ^ This definition is drawn from two separate IAU declarations; a formal definition agreed by the IAU in 2006, and an informal working definition established by the IAU in 2001/2003 for objects outside of the Solar System. The 2006 definition, while official, applies only to the Solar System, while the 2003 definition applies to planets around other stars. The extrasolar planet issue was deemed too complex to resolve at the 2006 IAU conference.
- ^ Referred to by Huygens as a Planetes novus (“new planet”) in his Systema Saturnium
- ^ Both labelled nouvelles planètes (new planets) by Cassini in his Découverte de deux nouvelles planetes autour de Saturne
- ^ Both once referred to as “planets” by Cassini in his An Extract of the Journal Des Scavans…. The term “satellite”, however, had already begun to be used to distinguish such bodies from those around which they orbited (“primary planets”).
- ^ Classified as a dwarf planet in 2006.
- ^ Regarded as a planet from its discovery in 1930 until redesignated as a trans-Neptunian dwarf planet in August 2006.
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- International Astronomical Union website
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- Illustration comparing the sizes of the planets with each other, the Sun, and other stars
- “IAU Press Releases since 1999 “The status of Pluto: A Clarification”". Archived from the original on 2007-12-14. http://web.archive.org/web/20071214043704/http://www.iau.org/STATUS_OF_PLUTO.238.0.html.
- “Regarding the criteria for planethood and proposed planetary classification schemes.” article by Stern and Levinson
- Planetary Science Research Discoveries (educational site with illustrated articles)
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A star is a massive, luminous sphere of plasma held together by gravity. The nearest star to Earth is the Sun, which is the source of most of the energy on the planet. Other stars are visible from Earth during the night when they are not obscured by atmospheric phenomena, appearing as a multitude of fixed luminous points because of their immense distance. Historically, the most prominent stars on the celestial sphere were grouped together into constellations and asterisms, and the brightest stars gained proper names. Extensive catalogues of stars have been assembled by astronomers, which provide standardized star designations.
For at least a portion of its life, a star shines due to thermonuclear fusion of hydrogen into helium in its core, releasing energy that traverses the star’s interior and then radiates into outer space. Almost all naturally occurring elements heavier than helium are created by stars, either via stellar nucleosynthesis during their lifetimes or by supernova nucleosynthesis when very massive stars explode. Near the end of its life, a star can also contain a proportion of degenerate matter. Astronomers can determine the mass, age, chemical composition and many other properties of a star by observing its spectrum, luminosity and motion through space. The total mass of a star is the principal determinant in its evolution and eventual fate. Other characteristics of a star are determined by its evolutionary history, including diameter, rotation, movement and temperature. A plot of the temperature of many stars against their luminosities, known as a Hertzsprung–Russell diagram (H–R diagram), allows the age and evolutionary state of a star to be determined.
A star begins as a collapsing cloud of material composed primarily of hydrogen, along with helium and trace amounts of heavier elements. Once the stellar core is sufficiently dense, hydrogen becomes steadily converted into helium through nuclear fusion, releasing energy in the process. The remainder of the star’s interior carries energy away from the core through a combination of radiative and convective processes. The star’s internal pressure prevents it from collapsing further under its own gravity. Once the hydrogen fuel at the core is exhausted, a star with at least 0.4 times the mass of the Sun expands to become a red giant, in some cases fusing heavier elements at the core or in shells around the core. The star then evolves into a degenerate form, recycling a portion of its matter into the interstellar environment, where it will form a new generation of stars with a higher proportion of heavy elements. Meanwhile, the core becomes a stellar remnant: a white dwarf, a neutron star, or (if it is sufficiently massive) a black hole.
Binary and multi-star systems consist of two or more stars that are gravitationally bound, and generally move around each other in stable orbits. When two such stars have a relatively close orbit, their gravitational interaction can have a significant impact on their evolution. Stars can form part of a much larger gravitationally bound structure, such as a cluster or a galaxy.
Historically, stars have been important to civilizations throughout the world. They have been part of religious practices and used for celestial navigation and orientation. Many ancient astronomers believed that stars were permanently affixed to a heavenly sphere, and that they were immutable. By convention, astronomers grouped stars into constellations and used them to track the motions of the planets and the inferred position of the Sun. The motion of the Sun against the background stars (and the horizon) was used to create calendars, which could be used to regulate agricultural practices. The Gregorian calendar, currently used nearly everywhere in the world, is a solar calendar based on the angle of the Earth’s rotational axis relative to its local star, the Sun.
The oldest accurately dated star chart appeared in ancient Egyptian astronomy in 1534 BC. The earliest known star catalogues were compiled by the ancient Babylonian astronomers of Mesopotamia in the late 2nd millennium BC, during the Kassite Period (ca. 1531–1155 BC).
The first star catalogue in Greek astronomy was created by Aristillus in approximately 300 BC, with the help of Timocharis. The star catalog of Hipparchus (2nd century BC) included 1020 stars and was used to assemble Ptolemy‘s star catalogue. Hipparchus is known for the discovery of the first recorded nova (new star). Many of the constellations and star names in use today derive from Greek astronomy.
In spite of the apparent immutability of the heavens, Chinese astronomers were aware that new stars could appear. In 185 AD, they were the first to observe and write about a supernova, now known as the SN 185. The brightest stellar event in recorded history was the SN 1006 supernova, which was observed in 1006 and written about by the Egyptian astronomer Ali ibn Ridwan and several Chinese astronomers. The SN 1054 supernova, which gave birth to the Crab Nebula, was also observed by Chinese and Islamic astronomers.
Medieval Islamic astronomers gave Arabic names to many stars that are still used today, and they invented numerous astronomical instruments that could compute the positions of the stars. They built the first large observatory research institutes, mainly for the purpose of producing Zij star catalogues. Among these, the Book of Fixed Stars (964) was written by the Persian astronomer Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi, who observed a number of stars, star clusters (including the Omicron Velorum and Brocchi’s Clusters) and galaxies (including the Andromeda Galaxy). According to A. Zahoor, in the 11th century, the Persian polymath scholar Abu Rayhan Biruni described the Milky Way galaxy as a multitude of fragments having the properties of nebulous stars, and also gave the latitudes of various stars during a lunar eclipse in 1019.
According to Josep Puig, the Andalusian astronomer Ibn Bajjah proposed that the Milky Way was made up of many stars which almost touched one another and appeared to be a continuous image due to the effect of refraction from sublunary material, citing his observation of the conjunction of Jupiter and Mars on 500 AH (1106/1107 AD) as evidence. Early European astronomers such as Tycho Brahe identified new stars in the night sky (later termed novae), suggesting that the heavens were not immutable. In 1584 Giordano Bruno suggested that the stars were like the Sun, and may have other planets, possibly even Earth-like, in orbit around them, an idea that had been suggested earlier by the ancient Greek philosophers, Democritus and Epicurus, and by medieval Islamic cosmologists such as Fakhr al-Din al-Razi. By the following century, the idea of the stars being the same as the Sun was reaching a consensus among astronomers. To explain why these stars exerted no net gravitational pull on the Solar System, Isaac Newton suggested that the stars were equally distributed in every direction, an idea prompted by the theologian Richard Bentley.
The Italian astronomer Geminiano Montanari recorded observing variations in luminosity of the star Algol in 1667. Edmond Halley published the first measurements of the proper motion of a pair of nearby “fixed” stars, demonstrating that they had changed positions from the time of the ancient Greek astronomers Ptolemy and Hipparchus. The first direct measurement of the distance to a star (61 Cygni at 11.4 light-years) was made in 1838 by Friedrich Bessel using the parallax technique. Parallax measurements demonstrated the vast separation of the stars in the heavens.
William Herschel was the first astronomer to attempt to determine the distribution of stars in the sky. During the 1780s, he performed a series of gauges in 600 directions, and counted the stars observed along each line of sight. From this he deduced that the number of stars steadily increased toward one side of the sky, in the direction of the Milky Way core. His son John Herschel repeated this study in the southern hemisphere and found a corresponding increase in the same direction. In addition to his other accomplishments, William Herschel is also noted for his discovery that some stars do not merely lie along the same line of sight, but are also physical companions that form binary star systems.
The science of stellar spectroscopy was pioneered by Joseph von Fraunhofer and Angelo Secchi. By comparing the spectra of stars such as Sirius to the Sun, they found differences in the strength and number of their absorption lines—the dark lines in a stellar spectra due to the absorption of specific frequencies by the atmosphere. In 1865 Secchi began classifying stars into spectral types. However, the modern version of the stellar classification scheme was developed by Annie J. Cannon during the 1900s.
Observation of double stars gained increasing importance during the 19th century. In 1834, Friedrich Bessel observed changes in the proper motion of the star Sirius, and inferred a hidden companion. Edward Pickering discovered the first spectroscopic binary in 1899 when he observed the periodic splitting of the spectral lines of the star Mizar in a 104 day period. Detailed observations of many binary star systems were collected by astronomers such as William Struve and S. W. Burnham, allowing the masses of stars to be determined from computation of the orbital elements. The first solution to the problem of deriving an orbit of binary stars from telescope observations was made by Felix Savary in 1827. The twentieth century saw increasingly rapid advances in the scientific study of stars. The photograph became a valuable astronomical tool. Karl Schwarzschild discovered that the color of a star, and hence its temperature, could be determined by comparing the visual magnitude against the photographic magnitude. The development of the photoelectric photometer allowed very precise measurements of magnitude at multiple wavelength intervals. In 1921 Albert A. Michelson made the first measurements of a stellar diameter using an interferometer on the Hooker telescope.
Important conceptual work on the physical basis of stars occurred during the first decades of the twentieth century. In 1913, the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram was developed, propelling the astrophysical study of stars. Successful models were developed to explain the interiors of stars and stellar evolution. The spectra of stars were also successfully explained through advances in quantum physics. This allowed the chemical composition of the stellar atmosphere to be determined.
With the exception of supernovae, individual stars have primarily been observed in our Local Group of galaxies, and especially in the visible part of the Milky Way (as demonstrated by the detailed star catalogues available for our galaxy). But some stars have been observed in the M100 galaxy of the Virgo Cluster, about 100 million light years from the Earth. In the Local Supercluster it is possible to see star clusters, and current telescopes could in principle observe faint individual stars in the Local Cluster—the most distant stars resolved have up to hundred million light years away (see Cepheids). However, outside the Local Supercluster of galaxies, neither individual stars nor clusters of stars have been observed. The only exception is a faint image of a large star cluster containing hundreds of thousands of stars located one billion light years away—ten times the distance of the most distant star cluster previously observed.
The concept of the constellation was known to exist during the Babylonian period. Ancient sky watchers imagined that prominent arrangements of stars formed patterns, and they associated these with particular aspects of nature or their myths. Twelve of these formations lay along the band of the ecliptic and these became the basis of astrology. Many of the more prominent individual stars were also given names, particularly with Arabic or Latin designations.
As well as certain constellations and the Sun itself, stars as a whole have their own myths. To the Ancient Greeks, some “stars”, known as planets (Greek πλανήτης (planētēs), meaning “wanderer”), represented various important deities, from which the names of the planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn were taken. (Uranus and Neptune were also Greek and Roman gods, but neither planet was known in Antiquity because of their low brightness. Their names were assigned by later astronomers.)
Circa 1600, the names of the constellations were used to name the stars in the corresponding regions of the sky. The German astronomer Johann Bayer created a series of star maps and applied Greek letters as designations to the stars in each constellation. Later a numbering system based on the star’s right ascension was invented and added to John Flamsteed‘s star catalogue in his book “Historia coelestis Britannica” (the 1712 edition), whereby this numbering system came to be called Flamsteed designation or Flamsteed numbering.
Under space law, the only internationally recognized authority for naming celestial bodies is the International Astronomical Union (IAU). A number of private companies sell names of stars, which the British Library calls an unregulated commercial enterprise. However, the IAU has disassociated itself from this commercial practice, and these names are neither recognized by the IAU nor used by them. One such star naming company is the International Star Registry, which, during the 1980s, was accused of deceptive practice for making it appear that the assigned name was official. This now-discontinued ISR practice was informally labeled a scam and a fraud, and the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs issued a violation against ISR for engaging in a deceptive trade practice.
Units of measurement
solar mass: M⊙ = 1.9891 × 1030 kg solar luminosity: L⊙ = 3.827 × 1026 watts solar radius R⊙ = 6.960 × 108 m
Large lengths, such as the radius of a giant star or the semi-major axis of a binary star system, are often expressed in terms of the astronomical unit (AU)—approximately the mean distance between the Earth and the Sun (150 million km or 93 million miles).
Formation and evolution
Stars are formed within extended regions of higher density in the interstellar medium, although the density is still lower than the inside of an earthly vacuum chamber. These regions are called molecular clouds and consist mostly of hydrogen, with about 23–28% helium and a few percent heavier elements. One example of such a star-forming region is the Orion Nebula. As massive stars are formed from molecular clouds, they powerfully illuminate those clouds. They also ionize the hydrogen, creating an H II region.
The formation of a star begins with gravitational instability within a molecular cloud, caused by regions of higher density often triggered by shock waves from supernovae (massive stellar explosions), the collision of different molecular clouds, or the collision of galaxies (as in a starburst galaxy). Once a region reaches a sufficient density of matter to satisfy the criteria for Jeans instability, it begins to collapse under its own gravitational force.
As the cloud collapses, individual conglomerations of dense dust and gas form what are known as Bok globules. As a globule collapses and the density increases, the gravitational energy is converted into heat and the temperature rises. When the protostellar cloud has approximately reached the stable condition of hydrostatic equilibrium, a protostar forms at the core. These pre–main sequence stars are often surrounded by a protoplanetary disk. The period of gravitational contraction lasts for about 10–15 million years.
Early stars of less than 2 solar masses are called T Tauri stars, while those with greater mass are Herbig Ae/Be stars. These newly born stars emit jets of gas along their axis of rotation, which may reduce the angular momentum of the collapsing star and result in small patches of nebulosity known as Herbig–Haro objects. These jets, in combination with radiation from nearby massive stars, may help to drive away the surrounding cloud in which the star was formed.
Stars spend about 90% of their lifetime fusing hydrogen to produce helium in high-temperature and high-pressure reactions near the core. Such stars are said to be on the main sequence and are called dwarf stars. Starting at zero-age main sequence, the proportion of helium in a star’s core will steadily increase. As a consequence, in order to maintain the required rate of nuclear fusion at the core, the star will slowly increase in temperature and luminosity–the Sun, for example, is estimated to have increased in luminosity by about 40% since it reached the main sequence 4.6 billion (4.6 × 109) years ago.
Every star generates a stellar wind of particles that causes a continual outflow of gas into space. For most stars, the amount of mass lost is negligible. The Sun loses 10−14 solar masses every year, or about 0.01% of its total mass over its entire lifespan. However very massive stars can lose 10−7 to 10−5 solar masses each year, significantly affecting their evolution. Stars that begin with more than 50 solar masses can lose over half their total mass while they remain on the main sequence.
The duration that a star spends on the main sequence depends primarily on the amount of fuel it has to fuse and the rate at which it fuses that fuel, i.e. its initial mass and its luminosity. For the Sun, this is estimated to be about 1010 years. Large stars consume their fuel very rapidly and are short-lived. Small stars (called red dwarfs) consume their fuel very slowly and last tens to hundreds of billions of years. At the end of their lives, they simply become dimmer and dimmer. However, since the lifespan of such stars is greater than the current age of the universe (13.7 billion years), no stars under about 85% of solar mass, including all red dwarfs, are expected to have moved off of the main sequence.
Besides mass, the portion of elements heavier than helium can play a significant role in the evolution of stars. In astronomy all elements heavier than helium are considered a “metal”, and the chemical concentration of these elements is called the metallicity. The metallicity can influence the duration that a star will burn its fuel, control the formation of magnetic fields and modify the strength of the stellar wind. Older, population II stars have substantially less metallicity than the younger, population I stars due to the composition of the molecular clouds from which they formed. (Over time these clouds become increasingly enriched in heavier elements as older stars die and shed portions of their atmospheres.)
As stars of at least 0.4 solar masses exhaust their supply of hydrogen at their core, their outer layers expand greatly and cool to form a red giant. For example, in about 5 billion years, when the Sun is a red giant, it will expand out to a maximum radius of roughly 1 astronomical unit (150 million kilometres), 250 times its present size. As a giant, the Sun will lose roughly 30% of its current mass.
In a red giant of up to 2.25 solar masses, hydrogen fusion proceeds in a shell-layer surrounding the core. Eventually the core is compressed enough to start helium fusion, and the star now gradually shrinks in radius and increases its surface temperature. For larger stars, the core region transitions directly from fusing hydrogen to fusing helium.
After the star has consumed the helium at the core, fusion continues in a shell around a hot core of carbon and oxygen. The star then follows an evolutionary path that parallels the original red giant phase, but at a higher surface temperature.
During their helium-burning phase, very high mass stars with more than nine solar masses expand to form red supergiants. Once this fuel is exhausted at the core, they can continue to fuse elements heavier than helium.
The core contracts until the temperature and pressure are sufficient to fuse carbon (see carbon burning process). This process continues, with the successive stages being fueled by neon (see neon burning process), oxygen (see oxygen burning process), and silicon (see silicon burning process). Near the end of the star’s life, fusion can occur along a series of onion-layer shells within the star. Each shell fuses a different element, with the outermost shell fusing hydrogen; the next shell fusing helium, and so forth.
The final stage is reached when the star begins producing iron. Since iron nuclei are more tightly bound than any heavier nuclei, if they are fused they do not release energy—the process would, on the contrary, consume energy. Likewise, since they are more tightly bound than all lighter nuclei, energy cannot be released by fission. In relatively old, very massive stars, a large core of inert iron will accumulate in the center of the star. The heavier elements in these stars can work their way up to the surface, forming evolved objects known as Wolf-Rayet stars that have a dense stellar wind which sheds the outer atmosphere.
An evolved, average-size star will now shed its outer layers as a planetary nebula. If what remains after the outer atmosphere has been shed is less than 1.4 solar masses, it shrinks to a relatively tiny object (about the size of Earth) that is not massive enough for further compression to take place, known as a white dwarf. The electron-degenerate matter inside a white dwarf is no longer a plasma, even though stars are generally referred to as being spheres of plasma. White dwarfs will eventually fade into black dwarfs over a very long stretch of time.
In larger stars, fusion continues until the iron core has grown so large (more than 1.4 solar masses) that it can no longer support its own mass. This core will suddenly collapse as its electrons are driven into its protons, forming neutrons and neutrinos in a burst of inverse beta decay, or electron capture. The shockwave formed by this sudden collapse causes the rest of the star to explode in a supernova. Supernovae are so bright that they may briefly outshine the star’s entire home galaxy. When they occur within the Milky Way, supernovae have historically been observed by naked-eye observers as “new stars” where none existed before.
Most of the matter in the star is blown away by the supernova explosion (forming nebulae such as the Crab Nebula) and what remains will be a neutron star (which sometimes manifests itself as a pulsar or X-ray burster) or, in the case of the largest stars (large enough to leave a stellar remnant greater than roughly 4 solar masses), a black hole. In a neutron star the matter is in a state known as neutron-degenerate matter, with a more exotic form of degenerate matter, QCD matter, possibly present in the core. Within a black hole the matter is in a state that is not currently understood.
The blown-off outer layers of dying stars include heavy elements which may be recycled during new star formation. These heavy elements allow the formation of rocky planets. The outflow from supernovae and the stellar wind of large stars play an important part in shaping the interstellar medium.
In addition to isolated stars, a multi-star system can consist of two or more gravitationally bound stars that orbit around each other. The most common multi-star system is a binary star, but systems of three or more stars are also found. For reasons of orbital stability, such multi-star systems are often organized into hierarchical sets of co-orbiting binary stars. Larger groups called star clusters also exist. These range from loose stellar associations with only a few stars, up to enormous globular clusters with hundreds of thousands of stars.
It has been a long-held assumption that the majority of stars occur in gravitationally bound, multiple-star systems. This is particularly true for very massive O and B class stars, where 80% of the systems are believed to be multiple. However the proportion of single star systems increases for smaller stars, so that only 25% of red dwarfs are known to have stellar companions. As 85% of all stars are red dwarfs, most stars in the Milky Way are likely single from birth.
Stars are not spread uniformly across the universe, but are normally grouped into galaxies along with interstellar gas and dust. A typical galaxy contains hundreds of billions of stars, and there are more than 100 billion (1011) galaxies in the observable universe. A 2010 star count estimate was 300 sextillion (3 × 1023) in the observable universe. While it is often believed that stars only exist within galaxies, intergalactic stars have been discovered.
The nearest star to the Earth, apart from the Sun, is Proxima Centauri, which is 39.9 trillion kilometres, or 4.2 light-years away. Travelling at the orbital speed of the Space Shuttle (8 kilometres per second—almost 30,000 kilometres per hour), it would take about 150,000 years to get there. Distances like this are typical inside galactic discs, including in the vicinity of the solar system. Stars can be much closer to each other in the centres of galaxies and in globular clusters, or much farther apart in galactic halos.
Due to the relatively vast distances between stars outside the galactic nucleus, collisions between stars are thought to be rare. In denser regions such as the core of globular clusters or the galactic center, collisions can be more common. Such collisions can produce what are known as blue stragglers. These abnormal stars have a higher surface temperature than the other main sequence stars with the same luminosity in the cluster .
Almost everything about a star is determined by its initial mass, including essential characteristics such as luminosity and size, as well as the star’s evolution, lifespan, and eventual fate.
Most stars are between 1 billion and 10 billion years old. Some stars may even be close to 13.7 billion years old—the observed age of the universe. The oldest star yet discovered, HE 1523-0901, is an estimated 13.2 billion years old.
The more massive the star, the shorter its lifespan, primarily because massive stars have greater pressure on their cores, causing them to burn hydrogen more rapidly. The most massive stars last an average of a few million years, while stars of minimum mass (red dwarfs) burn their fuel very slowly and last tens to hundreds of billions of years.
When stars form in the present Milky Way galaxy they are composed of about 71% hydrogen and 27% helium, as measured by mass, with a small fraction of heavier elements. Typically the portion of heavy elements is measured in terms of the iron content of the stellar atmosphere, as iron is a common element and its absorption lines are relatively easy to measure. Because the molecular clouds where stars form are steadily enriched by heavier elements from supernovae explosions, a measurement of the chemical composition of a star can be used to infer its age. The portion of heavier elements may also be an indicator of the likelihood that the star has a planetary system.
The star with the lowest iron content ever measured is the dwarf HE1327-2326, with only 1/200,000th the iron content of the Sun. By contrast, the super-metal-rich star μ Leonis has nearly double the abundance of iron as the Sun, while the planet-bearing star 14 Herculis has nearly triple the iron. There also exist chemically peculiar stars that show unusual abundances of certain elements in their spectrum; especially chromium and rare earth elements.
Due to their great distance from the Earth, all stars except the Sun appear to the human eye as shining points in the night sky that twinkle because of the effect of the Earth’s atmosphere. The Sun is also a star, but it is close enough to the Earth to appear as a disk instead, and to provide daylight. Other than the Sun, the star with the largest apparent size is R Doradus, with an angular diameter of only 0.057 arcseconds.
The disks of most stars are much too small in angular size to be observed with current ground-based optical telescopes, and so interferometer telescopes are required to produce images of these objects. Another technique for measuring the angular size of stars is through occultation. By precisely measuring the drop in brightness of a star as it is occulted by the Moon (or the rise in brightness when it reappears), the star’s angular diameter can be computed.
Stars range in size from neutron stars, which vary anywhere from 20 to 40 km (25 mi) in diameter, to supergiants like Betelgeuse in the Orion constellation, which has a diameter approximately 650 times larger than the Sun—about 900,000,000 km (560,000,000 mi). However, Betelgeuse has a much lower density than the Sun.
The motion of a star relative to the Sun can provide useful information about the origin and age of a star, as well as the structure and evolution of the surrounding galaxy. The components of motion of a star consist of the radial velocity toward or away from the Sun, and the traverse angular movement, which is called its proper motion.
Radial velocity is measured by the doppler shift of the star’s spectral lines, and is given in units of km/s. The proper motion of a star is determined by precise astrometric measurements in units of milli-arc seconds (mas) per year. By determining the parallax of a star, the proper motion can then be converted into units of velocity. Stars with high rates of proper motion are likely to be relatively close to the Sun, making them good candidates for parallax measurements.
Once both rates of movement are known, the space velocity of the star relative to the Sun or the galaxy can be computed. Among nearby stars, it has been found that population I stars have generally lower velocities than older, population II stars. The latter have elliptical orbits that are inclined to the plane of the galaxy. Comparison of the kinematics of nearby stars has also led to the identification of stellar associations. These are most likely groups of stars that share a common point of origin in giant molecular clouds.
The magnetic field of a star is generated within regions of the interior where convective circulation occurs. This movement of conductive plasma functions like a dynamo, generating magnetic fields that extend throughout the star. The strength of the magnetic field varies with the mass and composition of the star, and the amount of magnetic surface activity depends upon the star’s rate of rotation. This surface activity produces starspots, which are regions of strong magnetic fields and lower than normal surface temperatures. Coronal loops are arching magnetic fields that reach out into the corona from active regions. Stellar flares are bursts of high-energy particles that are emitted due to the same magnetic activity.
Young, rapidly rotating stars tend to have high levels of surface activity because of their magnetic field. The magnetic field can act upon a star’s stellar wind, however, functioning as a brake to gradually slow the rate of rotation as the star grows older. Thus, older stars such as the Sun have a much slower rate of rotation and a lower level of surface activity. The activity levels of slowly rotating stars tend to vary in a cyclical manner and can shut down altogether for periods. During the Maunder minimum, for example, the Sun underwent a 70-year period with almost no sunspot activity.
One of the most massive stars known is Eta Carinae, with 100–150 times as much mass as the Sun; its lifespan is very short—only several million years at most. A study of the Arches cluster suggests that 150 solar masses is the upper limit for stars in the current era of the universe. The reason for this limit is not precisely known, but it is partially due to the Eddington luminosity which defines the maximum amount of luminosity that can pass through the atmosphere of a star without ejecting the gases into space. However, a star named R136a1 in the RMC 136a star cluster has been measured at 265 solar masses, which put this limit into question. A study determined that stars larger than 150 solar masses in R136 were created through the collision and merger of massive stars in close binary systems, providing a way to sidestep the 150 solar mass limit.
The first stars to form after the Big Bang may have been larger, up to 300 solar masses or more, due to the complete absence of elements heavier than lithium in their composition. This generation of supermassive, population III stars is long extinct, however, and currently only theoretical.
With a mass only 93 times that of Jupiter, AB Doradus C, a companion to AB Doradus A, is the smallest known star undergoing nuclear fusion in its core. For stars with similar metallicity to the Sun, the theoretical minimum mass the star can have, and still undergo fusion at the core, is estimated to be about 75 times the mass of Jupiter. When the metallicity is very low, however, a recent study of the faintest stars found that the minimum star size seems to be about 8.3% of the solar mass, or about 87 times the mass of Jupiter. Smaller bodies are called brown dwarfs, which occupy a poorly defined grey area between stars and gas giants.
The combination of the radius and the mass of a star determines the surface gravity. Giant stars have a much lower surface gravity than main sequence stars, while the opposite is the case for degenerate, compact stars such as white dwarfs. The surface gravity can influence the appearance of a star’s spectrum, with higher gravity causing a broadening of the absorption lines.
Stars are sometimes grouped by mass based upon their evolutionary behavior as they approach the end of their nuclear fusion lifetimes. Very low mass stars with masses below 0.5 solar masses do not enter the asymptotic giant branch (AGB) but evolve directly into white dwarfs. Low mass stars with a mass below about 1.8–2.2 solar masses (depending on composition) do enter the AGB, where they develop a degenerate helium core. Intermediate-mass stars undergo helium fusion and develop a degenerate carbon-oxygen core. Massive stars have a minimum mass of 7–10 solar masses, but this may be as low as 5–6 solar masses. These stars undergo carbon fusion, with their lives ending in a core-collapse supernova explosion.
The rotation rate of stars can be approximated through spectroscopic measurement, or more exactly determined by tracking the rotation rate of starspots. Young stars can have a rapid rate of rotation greater than 100 km/s at the equator. The B-class star Achernar, for example, has an equatorial rotation velocity of about 225 km/s or greater, giving it an equatorial diameter that is more than 50% larger than the distance between the poles. This rate of rotation is just below the critical velocity of 300 km/s where the star would break apart. By contrast, the Sun only rotates once every 25 – 35 days, with an equatorial velocity of 1.994 km/s. The star’s magnetic field and the stellar wind serve to slow down a main sequence star’s rate of rotation by a significant amount as it evolves on the main sequence.
Degenerate stars have contracted into a compact mass, resulting in a rapid rate of rotation. However they have relatively low rates of rotation compared to what would be expected by conservation of angular momentum—the tendency of a rotating body to compensate for a contraction in size by increasing its rate of spin. A large portion of the star’s angular momentum is dissipated as a result of mass loss through the stellar wind. In spite of this, the rate of rotation for a pulsar can be very rapid. The pulsar at the heart of the Crab nebula, for example, rotates 30 times per second. The rotation rate of the pulsar will gradually slow due to the emission of radiation.
The surface temperature of a main sequence star is determined by the rate of energy production at the core and the radius of the star and is often estimated from the star’s color index. It is normally given as the effective temperature, which is the temperature of an idealized black body that radiates its energy at the same luminosity per surface area as the star. Note that the effective temperature is only a representative value, however, as stars actually have a temperature gradient that decreases with increasing distance from the core. The temperature in the core region of a star is several million kelvins.
The stellar temperature will determine the rate of energization or ionization of different elements, resulting in characteristic absorption lines in the spectrum. The surface temperature of a star, along with its visual absolute magnitude and absorption features, is used to classify a star (see classification below).
Massive main sequence stars can have surface temperatures of 50,000 K. Smaller stars such as the Sun have surface temperatures of a few thousand K. Red giants have relatively low surface temperatures of about 3,600 K, but they also have a high luminosity due to their large exterior surface area.
The energy produced by stars, as a by-product of nuclear fusion, radiates into space as both electromagnetic radiation and particle radiation. The particle radiation emitted by a star is manifested as the stellar wind (which exists as a steady stream of electrically charged particles, such as free protons, alpha particles, and beta particles, emanating from the star’s outer layers) and as a steady stream of neutrinos emanating from the star’s core.
The production of energy at the core is the reason why stars shine so brightly: every time two or more atomic nuclei of one element fuse together to form an atomic nucleus of a new heavier element, gamma ray photons are released from the nuclear fusion reaction. This energy is converted to other forms of electromagnetic energy, including visible light, by the time it reaches the star’s outer layers.
The color of a star, as determined by the peak frequency of the visible light, depends on the temperature of the star’s outer layers, including its photosphere. Besides visible light, stars also emit forms of electromagnetic radiation that are invisible to the human eye. In fact, stellar electromagnetic radiation spans the entire electromagnetic spectrum, from the longest wavelengths of radio waves and infrared to the shortest wavelengths of ultraviolet, X-rays, and gamma rays. All components of stellar electromagnetic radiation, both visible and invisible, are typically significant.
Using the stellar spectrum, astronomers can also determine the surface temperature, surface gravity, metallicity and rotational velocity of a star. If the distance of the star is known, such as by measuring the parallax, then the luminosity of the star can be derived. The mass, radius, surface gravity, and rotation period can then be estimated based on stellar models. (Mass can be measured directly for stars in binary systems. The technique of gravitational microlensing will also yield the mass of a star) With these parameters, astronomers can also estimate the age of the star.
In astronomy, luminosity is the amount of light, and other forms of radiant energy, a star radiates per unit of time. The luminosity of a star is determined by the radius and the surface temperature. However, many stars do not radiate a uniform flux—the amount of energy radiated per unit area—across their entire surface. The rapidly rotating star Vega, for example, has a higher energy flux at its poles than along its equator.
Surface patches with a lower temperature and luminosity than average are known as starspots. Small, dwarf stars such as the Sun generally have essentially featureless disks with only small starspots. Larger, giant stars have much bigger, much more obvious starspots, and they also exhibit strong stellar limb darkening. That is, the brightness decreases towards the edge of the stellar disk. Red dwarf flare stars such as UV Ceti may also possess prominent starspot features.
The apparent brightness of a star is measured by its apparent magnitude, which is the brightness of a star with respect to the star’s luminosity, distance from Earth, and the altering of the star’s light as it passes through Earth’s atmosphere. Intrinsic or absolute magnitude is directly related to a star’s luminosity and is what the apparent magnitude a star would be if the distance between the Earth and the star were 10 parsecs (32.6 light-years).
Both the apparent and absolute magnitude scales are logarithmic units: one whole number difference in magnitude is equal to a brightness variation of about 2.5 times (the 5th root of 100 or approximately 2.512). This means that a first magnitude (+1.00) star is about 2.5 times brighter than a second magnitude (+2.00) star, and approximately 100 times brighter than a sixth magnitude (+6.00) star. The faintest stars visible to the naked eye under good seeing conditions are about magnitude +6.
On both apparent and absolute magnitude scales, the smaller the magnitude number, the brighter the star; the larger the magnitude number, the fainter. The brightest stars, on either scale, have negative magnitude numbers. The variation in brightness (ΔL) between two stars is calculated by subtracting the magnitude number of the brighter star (mb) from the magnitude number of the fainter star (mf), then using the difference as an exponent for the base number 2.512; that is to say:
Relative to both luminosity and distance from Earth, absolute magnitude (M) and apparent magnitude (m) are not equivalent for an individual star; for example, the bright star Sirius has an apparent magnitude of −1.44, but it has an absolute magnitude of +1.41.
The Sun has an apparent magnitude of −26.7, but its absolute magnitude is only +4.83. Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky as seen from Earth, is approximately 23 times more luminous than the Sun, while Canopus, the second brightest star in the night sky with an absolute magnitude of −5.53, is approximately 14,000 times more luminous than the Sun. Despite Canopus being vastly more luminous than Sirius, however, Sirius appears brighter than Canopus. This is because Sirius is merely 8.6 light-years from the Earth, while Canopus is much farther away at a distance of 310 light-years.
As of 2006, the star with the highest known absolute magnitude is LBV 1806-20, with a magnitude of −14.2. This star is at least 5,000,000 times more luminous than the Sun. The least luminous stars that are currently known are located in the NGC 6397 cluster. The faintest red dwarfs in the cluster were magnitude 26, while a 28th magnitude white dwarf was also discovered. These faint stars are so dim that their light is as bright as a birthday candle on the Moon when viewed from the Earth.
|O||33,000 K or more||Zeta Ophiuchi|
|F||6,000–7,200 K||Procyon A|
|K||4,000–5,250 K||Epsilon Indi|
|M||2,600–3,850 K||Proxima Centauri|
The current stellar classification system originated in the early 20th century, when stars were classified from A to Q based on the strength of the hydrogen line. It was not known at the time that the major influence on the line strength was temperature; the hydrogen line strength reaches a peak at over 9000 K, and is weaker at both hotter and cooler temperatures. When the classifications were reordered by temperature, it more closely resembled the modern scheme.
There are different single-letter classifications of stars according to their spectra, ranging from type O, which are very hot, to M, which are so cool that molecules may form in their atmospheres. The main classifications in order of decreasing surface temperature are: O, B, A, F, G, K, and M. A variety of rare spectral types have special classifications. The most common of these are types L and T, which classify the coldest low-mass stars and brown dwarfs. Each letter has 10 sub-divisions, numbered from 0 to 9, in order of decreasing temperature. However, this system breaks down at extreme high temperatures: class O0 and O1 stars may not exist.
In addition, stars may be classified by the luminosity effects found in their spectral lines, which correspond to their spatial size and is determined by the surface gravity. These range from 0 (hypergiants) through III (giants) to V (main sequence dwarfs); some authors add VII (white dwarfs). Most stars belong to the main sequence, which consists of ordinary hydrogen-burning stars. These fall along a narrow, diagonal band when graphed according to their absolute magnitude and spectral type. The Sun is a main sequence G2V yellow dwarf, being of intermediate temperature and ordinary size.
Additional nomenclature, in the form of lower-case letters, can follow the spectral type to indicate peculiar features of the spectrum. For example, an “e” can indicate the presence of emission lines; “m” represents unusually strong levels of metals, and “var” can mean variations in the spectral type.
White dwarf stars have their own class that begins with the letter D. This is further sub-divided into the classes DA, DB, DC, DO, DZ, and DQ, depending on the types of prominent lines found in the spectrum. This is followed by a numerical value that indicates the temperature index.
Variable stars have periodic or random changes in luminosity because of intrinsic or extrinsic properties. Of the intrinsically variable stars, the primary types can be subdivided into three principal groups.
During their stellar evolution, some stars pass through phases where they can become pulsating variables. Pulsating variable stars vary in radius and luminosity over time, expanding and contracting with periods ranging from minutes to years, depending on the size of the star. This category includes Cepheid and cepheid-like stars, and long-period variables such as Mira.
Eruptive variables are stars that experience sudden increases in luminosity because of flares or mass ejection events. This group includes protostars, Wolf-Rayet stars, and Flare stars, as well as giant and supergiant stars.
Cataclysmic or explosive variables undergo a dramatic change in their properties. This group includes novae and supernovae. A binary star system that includes a nearby white dwarf can produce certain types of these spectacular stellar explosions, including the nova and a Type 1a supernova. The explosion is created when the white dwarf accretes hydrogen from the companion star, building up mass until the hydrogen undergoes fusion. Some novae are also recurrent, having periodic outbursts of moderate amplitude.
Stars can also vary in luminosity because of extrinsic factors, such as eclipsing binaries, as well as rotating stars that produce extreme starspots. A notable example of an eclipsing binary is Algol, which regularly varies in magnitude from 2.3 to 3.5 over a period of 2.87 days.
The interior of a stable star is in a state of hydrostatic equilibrium: the forces on any small volume almost exactly counterbalance each other. The balanced forces are inward gravitational force and an outward force due to the pressure gradient within the star. The pressure gradient is established by the temperature gradient of the plasma; the outer part of the star is cooler than the core. The temperature at the core of a main sequence or giant star is at least on the order of 107 K. The resulting temperature and pressure at the hydrogen-burning core of a main sequence star are sufficient for nuclear fusion to occur and for sufficient energy to be produced to prevent further collapse of the star.
As atomic nuclei are fused in the core, they emit energy in the form of gamma rays. These photons interact with the surrounding plasma, adding to the thermal energy at the core. Stars on the main sequence convert hydrogen into helium, creating a slowly but steadily increasing proportion of helium in the core. Eventually the helium content becomes predominant and energy production ceases at the core. Instead, for stars of more than 0.4 solar masses, fusion occurs in a slowly expanding shell around the degenerate helium core.
In addition to hydrostatic equilibrium, the interior of a stable star will also maintain an energy balance of thermal equilibrium. There is a radial temperature gradient throughout the interior that results in a flux of energy flowing toward the exterior. The outgoing flux of energy leaving any layer within the star will exactly match the incoming flux from below.
The radiation zone is the region within the stellar interior where radiative transfer is sufficiently efficient to maintain the flux of energy. In this region the plasma will not be perturbed and any mass motions will die out. If this is not the case, however, then the plasma becomes unstable and convection will occur, forming a convection zone. This can occur, for example, in regions where very high energy fluxes occur, such as near the core or in areas with high opacity as in the outer envelope.
The occurrence of convection in the outer envelope of a main sequence star depends on the mass. Stars with several times the mass of the Sun have a convection zone deep within the interior and a radiative zone in the outer layers. Smaller stars such as the Sun are just the opposite, with the convective zone located in the outer layers. Red dwarf stars with less than 0.4 solar masses are convective throughout, which prevents the accumulation of a helium core. For most stars the convective zones will also vary over time as the star ages and the constitution of the interior is modified.
The portion of a star that is visible to an observer is called the photosphere. This is the layer at which the plasma of the star becomes transparent to photons of light. From here, the energy generated at the core becomes free to propagate out into space. It is within the photosphere that sun spots, or regions of lower than average temperature, appear.
Above the level of the photosphere is the stellar atmosphere. In a main sequence star such as the Sun, the lowest level of the atmosphere is the thin chromosphere region, where spicules appear and stellar flares begin. This is surrounded by a transition region, where the temperature rapidly increases within a distance of only 100 km (62 mi). Beyond this is the corona, a volume of super-heated plasma that can extend outward to several million kilometres. The existence of a corona appears to be dependent on a convective zone in the outer layers of the star. Despite its high temperature, the corona emits very little light. The corona region of the Sun is normally only visible during a solar eclipse.
From the corona, a stellar wind of plasma particles expands outward from the star, propagating until it interacts with the interstellar medium. For the Sun, the influence of its solar wind extends throughout the bubble-shaped region of the heliosphere.
Nuclear fusion reaction pathways
A variety of different nuclear fusion reactions take place inside the cores of stars, depending upon their mass and composition, as part of stellar nucleosynthesis. The net mass of the fused atomic nuclei is smaller than the sum of the constituents. This lost mass is released as electromagnetic energy, according to the mass-energy equivalence relationship E = mc2.
The hydrogen fusion process is temperature-sensitive, so a moderate increase in the core temperature will result in a significant increase in the fusion rate. As a result the core temperature of main sequence stars only varies from 4 million kelvin for a small M-class star to 40 million kelvin for a massive O-class star.
- 41H → 22H + 2e+ + 2νe (4.0 MeV + 1.0 MeV)
- 21H + 22H → 23He + 2γ (5.5 MeV)
- 23He → 4He + 21H (12.9 MeV)
These reactions result in the overall reaction:
- 41H → 4He + 2e+ + 2γ + 2νe (26.7 MeV)
where e+ is a positron, γ is a gamma ray photon, νe is a neutrino, and H and He are isotopes of hydrogen and helium, respectively. The energy released by this reaction is in millions of electron volts, which is actually only a tiny amount of energy. However enormous numbers of these reactions occur constantly, producing all the energy necessary to sustain the star’s radiation output.
In evolved stars with cores at 100 million kelvin and masses between 0.5 and 10 solar masses, helium can be transformed into carbon in the triple-alpha process that uses the intermediate element beryllium:
For an overall reaction of:
- 34He → 12C + γ + 7.2 MeV
In massive stars, heavier elements can also be burned in a contracting core through the neon burning process and oxygen burning process. The final stage in the stellar nucleosynthesis process is the silicon burning process that results in the production of the stable isotope iron-56. Fusion can not proceed any further except through an endothermic process, and so further energy can only be produced through gravitational collapse.
The example below shows the amount of time required for a star of 20 solar masses to consume all of its nuclear fuel. As an O-class main sequence star, it would be 8 times the solar radius and 62,000 times the Sun’s luminosity.
(τ in years)
- Lists of stars
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- Twinkle twinkle little star (nursery rhyme)
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