Recent theories on the birth, life and death of stars have led us to the model below. This shows us the different paths that stars take in their life cycle.
The life cycle of all stars begins with a cloud of dust and gas in outer space, which we call a nebula. The nebula is mostly made up of hydrogen.
Over time, gravity pulls the fragments of gas and dust together, forming a hot ball of gas called a protostar. As more particles collide and join the protostar, it gets larger in size, which increases the force of gravity. The increase in gravity attracts more dust and gas, but it also makes the protostar denser.
The particles inside start to collide more often and more frequently, which raises the temperature of the protostar. When the temperature gets high enough, hydrogen nuclei start fusing together to form helium nuclei. We call this process nuclear fusion.
Nuclear fusion releases a large amount of energy and this constant release of energy keeps the core of the star hot,
The outward pressure, caused by the high temperature and the release of energy, is balanced by the force of gravity. This allows stars to remain stable for billions of years. At this point, we call the star a main sequence star.
Eventually, the star will run out of hydrogen, which fuels the nuclear fusion reactions. If there is no hydrogen, then nuclear fusion can no longer take place in the star and there will be no more energy released. This means that the inward force of gravity will take over and contract the star into a relatively small ball.
However, it will eventually get so hot and dense that nuclear fusion starts to take place again. At this point, the star will also start to expand again. But this time, the nuclear fusion reactions will not just form helium, It will also form heavier elements. This includes all the elements on the periodic table, up to iron (Fe).
The life cycle of a star depends on the size of the original star, which determines how much the star will expand
The massive stars have much shorter lifespans.
After the second stage of fusion, the red giant will become unstable. So, it will eject the outer layer of dust and gas, which we call a planetary nebula.
Ejecting the planetary nebula will form a hot, dense, solid core. The remaining core is known as a white dwarf, as it gives off a lot of light, appearing white. The white dwarf is relatively small and does not host any nuclear fusion reactions.
Over time, the white dwarf cools down and gets darker, as it emits all of its energy. Eventually, it becomes a black dwarf. As it no longer has enough energy to emit light, it appears black.
If a star forms a super red giant, it will shine brightly, as it undergoes more nuclear fusion. After many cycles of expansion and contraction, the star will collapse and explode into a supernova. This forms elements that are even heavier than iron, which are expelled across the universe.
The fate of a supernova star core depends on its mass. One of two things is left behind.
We call them ‘black holes’ because they are so dense that their gravity is able to pull in any light that gets close. This means that they appear invisible. Nothing can escape from a black hole, not even light.