How does a Star die?

Deep inside the core of a Star a war wages against gravity – the larger the Star, the more intense the battle. It is locked in a constant state of producing energy to push against the Star collapsing in on itself under the sheer weight of its own gravity (if you can attempt to imagine such a thing). While there is still Hydrogen burning to Helium in the core, energy is produced and creates an equal pressure against the gravity.

Google Search: Star in Space

So what happens when the Hydrogen runs out?

As the Hydrogen fades the pressure holding up the gravity will weaken and the core cools very quickly, leaving an outer shell of Hydrogen and Helium that has been pushed to the surface. As the gravity collapses this causes the core to rapidly heat up once again, and at 100m degrees Helium nuclei will fuse together.

This will cause further energy to be released and stops its own collapse once again, this time Carbon and Oxygen are produced. The larger the Star, the longer the fusion can carry out its reaction. As the energy runs out again, the collapse will happen again and as the temperature rises further, elements such as Magnesium, Neon, Sodium and Aluminium are produced.

This fusion process will continue inside the Star’s core going from one element to the next until it has burnt through all the elements we know.

Google Search: Red Giant

Finally, after everything has been burnt the Star will turn into pure Iron and this is when the fusion will stop. Each of the elements will be stacked on top of eachother in layers ending with Hydrogen, Helium, Carbon, Oxygen and so on.

Within seconds – bang.

Google Search: Supernova

With no energy left holding its weight, the sun will collapse and turn into a Supernova.

Could this happen to our Sun?

It will, but not anytime soon. Our Sun will still take a very long time to die however, it is worth turning out attention to one of the nearest Star – Betelgeuse, located in the constellation of Orion.

Google Search: Betelgeuse Star

Only 600 light-years away, Betelgeuse is a Red Giant (a dying Star) and could Supernova any day between tomorrow and the next million years. It will shine with the power of a thousand Suns and will appear about the size of our Moon!

Betelgeuse, according to Scientists, has dimmed about 15% in the last 10 years.

Does this spell the end of life if Betelgeuse explodes?

Probably not – I will cover this topic more on another day but it is certainly not anything we need to start worrying about.


Beginners Guide To (viewing) The Galaxy

This week sees the first step away from plants and right out into the depths of space, with planets. We’ll cover how and when you can spot planets, and the International Space Station, as the Earth orbits through the Solar System.

I had recently signed up to the free email service from NASA, named “Spot The Station” in which you input your geographical location and you’ll receive periodic emails on when is best to look into the sky to spot the International Space Station (ISS), as it flies over the night sky – weather permitting.

Last night, I combined this with my “SkyView Free” app which shows you what is in the sky wherever you point your smartphone. Very nifty.

Whilst I did see the International Space Station, it’s the above image that really grabbed my attention. I noticed a tiny dot in the sky and pointed my phone at it – Saturn was in visible range (sadly Mars, to its right, was not visible). To make that more understandable, below is the image taken away from the app.

You can just about make out Saturn in the night sky, even with all the interfering light from London. I decided I needed a closer look so I carefully zoomed in and snapped again.

Now you can really see Jupiter, but how can I be sure?

I carefully zoomed into the image once again and had to screenshot the picture, apologies for the low quality image.

Now I was certain – you can even make out Saturn’s rings! Although I feel the above is the best pic of the bunch, I did also grab the below image but this is very low quality.

You’ll have a much better experience if you live outside of London. (Or, quite plainly, if you own a telescope.) But I thought it was important to share this with those who perhaps are novice at sky watching and who didn’t know it were possible to view the sky’s with a smartphone.

I had intended to video the ISS flying over but the smartphone camera made the image too dark to capture, so I only have several images like that below.

Here is the image taken away from the app (sadly, zooming did not make this image any clearer).

Jupiter was also vaguely visible but as you see below, this appears as just a faint dot no matter how much you zoom.

Not ground breaking stuff I know – but remember this is just for anyone who is a novice sky-watcher with a smartphone.

So, to recap, you can see it for yourself with the following steps:

  1. Sign up to the email service Spot the Station (if you want to view ISS fly over – it moves fast! About 6 mins visiblity every 1hr 37mins.)
  2. Download SkyView Free app which is available on iOS devices (unsure about others)
  3. Wait for a clear night sky, point your smartphone and enjoy the show.

There is also an app I’d recommend (but you must pay – £3.99 I think I paid) called GoSkyWatch and it’s a more detailed view of the skies, but you cannot see through your camera view so matching with your eye can be difficult.

It’s a fun and simple way to check out the skies quickly, kids will love this too, and you’ll get to learn the constellations and planets in no time!