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Stars form in the densest regions of the interstellar medium, or ISM,

called molecular clouds. The ISM is the name given to the gas and dust
that exists between the stars within a galaxy. It is 99% gas and 1% dust,
by mass.
Properties of ISM gas in our region of the Milky Way Galaxy:

70% hydrogen
28% helium
2% elements heavier than helium

Molecular clouds are perfect star-forming regions because the

combination of these atoms into molecules is much more likely in very
dense regions.
This photograph shows the Orion Nebula, an interstellar cloud in which
star systems - and possibly planets - are forming. Our own solar system
presumably formed as gravity caused the collapse of a similar large cloud
of gas. The piece of cloud that formed our Solar System is known as the
solar nebula.
A star forms when a molecular cloud collapses under its own gravity
forming a dense core sustained by nuclear fusion. This happens only
when the force of gravity pulling in exceeds the outward push of
pressure. High-density molecular clouds have stronger forces of gravity
pushing in, making it easier to overcome the total pressure within the
Once started, the collapse of the solar nebula continues because the
force of gravity exerted on the cloud grows stronger as the cloud shrinks
in size. The universal law of gravitation is written mathematically:
The force of gravity between two objects: F=GMM/d^2
Fg is the force of gravitational attraction, M1 and M2 are the masses of
the two objects, and d is the distance between their centers. The symbol
G is known as the gravitational constant. Its value is G = 6.67 1011kgm2/s2.
Before its collapse began, the gas that made up the solar nebula was
probably spread out over a roughly spherical region a few light-years in
diameter. This gas was extremely low in density and extremely cold.
Possible causes for the start of a collapse:

Shock wave from a nearby exploding star

Collision of 2 molecular clouds


In order for a cloud to collapse, the strength of gravity pulling in must
exceed the strength of pressure pushing out. Lets see how these forces
battle each other mathematically.
Thermal pressure is directly proportional to both the temperature T and
number density n within a cloud.
P = nkT is known as the ideal gas law. P represents gas pressure,
number density n is equal to the number of particles contained within
each cubic centimeter, k is Boltzmanns constant and T represents
temperature measured in Kelvin. Lets start by finding out more about
the number density. If each gas particle has a mass m, then M m gives
the total
number of particles within a cloud of mass M. The number
is then found by dividing this number by the volume of the
simplicity, we will use a
spherical cloud.
The volume of a spherical
cloud of mass M and
radius r is

The force on a spherical cloud due to pressure is equal to the thermal

pressure times the area of the cloud.

This is the expression we will use as the force on the cloud from thermal
pressure. Now, in order to find an equation for the force due to gravity
we have to think about the cloud in a slightly different manner. Imagine
slicing the same spherical cloud into halves, so that each half exerts a
gravitational force on
the other half. The mass of
each half is M/2, and
the separation between their
centers is
approximately equal to r.

Newtons law of gravity says that the force due to gravity is

the mass of each half set to M/2, the force due to gravity is:

. With

Where G is the gravitational constant.

These equations for the force due to pressure and the force due to
gravity show how each depend differently on the mass, temperature and
density of the cloud. An increase in the mass of the cloud increases both
the gravity and the pressure. However, the force of gravity increases
more since it is proportional to the mass squared. The mass at which the
forces of gravity and pressure are equal
is called Jeans mass,
after the British physicist Sir
James Jeans.

Where temperature T is measured in Kelvin and number density n is

stated in units of particles per cubic centimeter. In a cloud with mass M
greater than Jeans mass, gravity is stronger than thermal pressure and
the cloud will collapse. The opposite is true for a cloud with mass M less
than Jeans mass. This is the method scientists used to find the minimum
mass of newborn stars.
As the solar nebula shrinks in size, its density, temperature and shape all
undergo dramatic changes.
HEATING: The temperature of the solar nebula increases as it collapses.
As the cloud shrinks, its gravitational potential energy is converted to the
kinetic energy of individual gas particles falling inward. These particles
crash into one another, converting their kinetic energy into thermal
SPINNING: Like an ice skater pulling in her arms as she spins, the solar
nebula rotates faster and faster as it shrinks in radius. This increase in
rotation rate represents conservation of angular momentum. The rotation
of the cloud may have been imperceptibly slow before its collapse began,
but the cloud's shrinkage makes fast rotation inevitable.
FLATTENING: The solar nebula has flattened into a disk. This flattening
is a natural consequence of collisions between particles in a spinning
cloud. A cloud may start with any size or shape, and different clumps of
gas within the cloud may be moving in random directions at random
speeds. When the cloud collapses, these different clumps collide and
merge, resulting in a flattened rotating disk.
As the collapse continues, density increases and the molecules inside
begin to interact more and more. This extra interaction causes the

temperature to increase. Since pressure depends on density and

temperature, the pressure increases.
Once the pressure gets high enough, it begins to rival the strength of
gravity and the collapse of the cloud slows down. Eventually, the cloud of
gas becomes a protostar: an infant star that has not yet begun to fuse
hydrogen in its core.
A protostar is not considered a star until it gets its energy from nuclear
fusion instead of gravitational contraction. Gravitational contraction is
the process of a cloud's gravity overcoming its internal pressure and
causing a collapse. The core temperature of an object must reach a
minimum temperature before the atoms inside will fuse.

Minimum temperature for:

Hydrogen to fuse into helium: 10 million Kelvin

3 helium nuclei to fuse into carbon: 100 million Kelvin

The rate of fusion increases until the amount of energy produced in the
core equals the amount of energy radiated from the surface. The perfect
balance between energy produced and energy released stops the
protostar from collapsing further.
The number of low-mass stars is much higher than the number of highmass stars.

Minimum mass of newborn star: 0.08 times the mass of the Sun
Maximum mass of newborn star: 150 times the mass of the Sun

The diagram shows the relative number of stars for every high-mass star.
For every star 10-150 times the mass of our Sun, there are 50 stars close
to the mass of our Sun. Our Sun is pretty average in size and mass.
Stages of Star Formation
Stage 1
Cloud collapse and fragmentation
clouds are non-uniform
densest pockets collapse first, leading to fragmentation
stars form in groups
Stage 2
Continuing collapse of each fragment
gravitational collapse should increase Kinetic energy of cloud

added heat goes into "exciting" atoms-'radiative cooling'

Stage 3
Fragmentation ceases, a protostar is born
central regions of the fragment become opaque to their own
trapped radiation=poorer cooling
central temp is greater than surrounding gas
dense opaque inner region=protostar
Stage 4
Protostar I
protostar continues to contract and gain mass
temp increases
pressure increases which leads to slowing in collapse
release of gravitational energy=high luminosity
equatorial plane (disc) formed (planets could form)
Stage 5
Protostar II
contraction proceeds slowly
temperature and pressure increase
Stage 6
Star is born
Helium production in core
nuclear reactions
radius and temp are greater than sun's
contracts slowly as settles into equilibrium
Stage 7
Main sequence
star reaches equilibrium
30million+ years to reach main sequence
central T=15million degrees
surface T=6000 degrees

Mass (in

of Black
Hole (in

Diameter of
Black Hole




smallest stellar mass black hole




medium stellar mass black hole




largest stellar mass black hole




intermediate mass galactic black


1 million

3.7 million

6 million

black hole at galactic center of the

Milky Way Galaxy

1 billion

3.7 billion

6 billion

black hole in a supermassive quasar

Black Hole Fun Facts

1. The idea of a "dark star" from which no light could escape was first introduced in 1783 by
John Michell from England, and Pierre-Simon Laplace from France.
2. The term "Black Hole" was first used in 1967 by John Archibald Wheeler. He also coined
the term "Worm Hole."
3. The closest black hole to Earth is Cygnus X-1, which is 8,000 light years away.
4. Nothing can escape a black hole, but they do release x-ray jets at their poles. Over time,
they shrink and will eventually disappear, or "evaporate."
5. The "escape velocity" or speed needed to escape a black hole's gravity, is faster than the
speed of light. But...matter cannot travel that fast! So...
Speed of Light = 186,000 miles/second

What is a Black Hole?

* It is a region where matter collapses to infinite density and where the resulting curvature of
space-time is extreme. It is a region in space from which nothing can escape, except for the
radiation that leaks out.
* There are two basic kinds of black holes: Stellar and Supermassive
What is a White Hole?
*A white hole is the reverse version of a black hole. In fact, if a black hole can only suck
things in, a white hole can only spit things out.
* Einstein's equations for black holes still function in reverse. But, white holes likely do not
exist, because producing a white hole is just as difficult as destroying a black hole.
What is a Wormhole?
* Wormholes have not been proven to exist. But, the possible combination of a black hole
linked to a white hole is called a wormhole.
* In effect, if the interior of an electrically charged or rotating black hole could join up with a
white hole, then you would fall into the black hole and pop out of the white hole.
* The white hole may be very far from the black hole; it may even be in another universe!
* They sound pretty cool, but even if a wormhole formed, it would not be stable. Even the
slightest disturbance would cause it to collapse.
* If wormholes exist and are stable, they would be quite unpleasant to travel through. The Xray and gamma radiation that pours into the wormhole would cause you to get fried. Toast.
Crispy. Ouch!
What is a Tachyon?
* The Latin word "tachys" means fast. A tachyon is a particle that travels
faster than the speed of light. Tachyons have never been found to exist,
although scientists are searching for them.
* Albert Einstein's theory of relativity says that nothing traveling slower
than the speed of light can ever travel faster than 186,000 miles per
second (the speed of light). But FTL's (faster than light) could potentially
exist IF they never traveled slower than the speed of light.
* Luxons travel at the speed of light. The name given for the massless
particle that travels at the speed of light is the "photon." Gravitons and
possible neutrinos are other kinds of luxons.
* The Latin word "tardys" means slow. Tardyons are things that travel
slower than the speed of light. They include things like protons,
electrons, neutrons and other subatomic particles of matter.

* If an alien, made entirely of tachyons, came toward you from his

spaceship, you would see him arrive before you saw him leave his ship.
The image of him leaving his ship would take longer to reach you than his
actual FTL body. The creature would also visually appear to be traveling
away from you. This means you would see a tachyonic alien as receding
backward in time!

Planetary Nebula

95% of all stars that we see in our own galaxy, the Milky Way,
ultimately become "planetary nebulae." This includes the Sun.
Planetary nebulae are formed when a red giant star ejects its
outer layers as clouds of
luminescent gas, revealing the dense, hot, and tiny white dwarf
star at its core.
The other 5% of stars -- that is, those born with masses more than
times (8x) larger than our Sun -- end their lives as
explosive supernovae.
FYI: The name "planetary nebula" is a misnomer (not a good
name choice)...
The name "planetary nebula" arose
long ago when Sir William Herschel looked through his small,
poor-quality telescope and saw these objects as compact,
round, green-colored
objects that reminded him of the view of his newly
discovered planet, Uranus.
Planetary nebulae are not made of planets, and no planets are
visible within them.
Rather, they are the gaseous and dusty material expelled by a
small to medium-sized dying star.
A far better name for these objects would be "emission
nebulae" because they emit gases in a small burst, sort of like a
"burp" of gases suddenly thrown outward into space.

The Eagle Nebula

Horsehead Nebula