# Lifespan on the main sequence. Lecture 9: Post-main sequence evolution of stars. Evolution on the main sequence. Evolution after the main sequence

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1 Lecture 9: Post-main sequence evolution of stars Lifetime on the main sequence Shell burning and the red giant phase Helium burning - the horizontal branch and the asymptotic giant branch The death of low mass stars - planetary nebulae and white dwarfs Summary - the evolution of our Sun Lifespan on the main sequence Lifetime of core H burning phase (where f=fraction of mass converted to energy) From the mass-luminosity relation M 2.5 It follows that t M 3.5 M So, since the MS lifetime of the sun is ~12 Gyr, 3.5 L M 70,000 Evolution on the main sequence The evolution can be understood using the virial theorem As H is converted into He in the stellar core the mean particle mass µ rises The mean internal temperature is approximately constant, since the nuclear reactions are very temperature sensitive Hence if µ rises at constant <T>, it follows that R must increase, and hence L ( R 2 ) also rises Evolution after the main sequence Clues to what happens to stars once their core hydrogen is exhausted, come from studying the H-R diagram of an old star cluster (e.g. a globular cluster). The bottom of the main sequence is still present, but more massive stars have evolved off onto the red giant and horizontal branches. 1

2 Evolution of cluster H-R diagrams H-R diagrams for clusters of different ages - a range of MS turn-off points Older clusters have progressively shorter main sequences, and lower turn-off points. Stars at the turn-off point have MS lifetimes equal to the age of the star cluster How do stars actually move on the H-R diagram once they turn off the main sequence? Life after the main sequence When all H in the core has been exhausted, the fusion reaction switches to an H-burning shell surrounding the now inert He core. This core contracts (having no internal energy source), and so T 0 rises, and the extra energy released in the H-burning shell causes the outer envelope of the star to expand - the star becomes a red giant. Red Giant Branch Red Giant Branch 2

3 Onset of helium burning Helium flash and the horizontal branch As the inert core of a red giant star progressively shrinks, its temperature rises (the virial theorem again) When the central temperature reaches about 10 8 K, helium fusion begins in the core This process, also called the triple alpha process, converts helium to carbon and oxygen In stars with masses less than 2-3 M, the start of He burning is explosive, and is called the helium flash This leads to a sudden change in the star s structure triple alpha process Following helium ignition the star becomes smaller and hotter, settling onto the horizontal branch, fusing He C in its core and H He in a shell. Horizontal branch Exhaustion of core helium and ascent of the asymptotic giant branch Dredge-ups bring the products of nuclear fusion to a giant star s surface When He is exhausted in the core (converted to C and O), helium burning switches to a surrounding shell. The star then swells in much the same way as in the earlier red giant phase, and ascends the asymptotic giant branch on the H-R diagram. During the AGB phase, convection occurs over a larger portion of the star s volume This takes heavy elements formed in the star s interior and distributes them throughout the star 3

4 The death of low-mass stars, and creation of planetary nebulae The death of low-mass stars, and creation of planetary nebulae Helium shell flashes in an old, low-mass star produce thermal pulses during which more than half the star s mass may be ejected into space note the changes in timescale here Helium shell flashes in an old, low-mass star produce thermal pulses during which more than half the star s mass may be ejected into space This exposes the hot carbon-oxygen core of the star Ultraviolet radiation from the exposed core ionizes and excites the ejected gases, producing a planetary nebula The end of the road... Our Sun s evolution: summary Ejection of the stellar atmosphere leaves the compact carbon-oxygen core. The drastic shrinkage of the star leads to a dramatic drop in luminosity. What remains is a white dwarf star, in the lower left portion of the H-R diagram. Past Future 4

5 Our Sun s Evolution 5.0 billion years ago: the Solar Nebula begins to form out of a cloud of cold interstellar gas and dust 10, ,000 years later: Sun is a protostar, a protoplanetary disk forms around it million years later: Sun begins fusing hydrogen to helium in its core; at around the same time planetesimals in the solar nebula begin to form planets million years later: Sun settles onto the main sequence as a G2 star with a surface temperature of 5800 K 5 billion years from now: our sun begins to leave the main sequence. The He core shrinks and H to He fusion occurs in a shell around the hot He core. The Sun is now a red giant. ~100 million years later: He flash: the sun s core will fuse He to C in the core and settle onto the horizontal branch. ~100 million years later: When the core runs out of helium, the sun will extend up the asymptotic branch. The sun will become so luminous that it will blow off its outer envelope. 10,000 years later: nuclear reactions in the carbon core stop and we are left with a white dwarf. The outer envelope is illuminated by the white dwarf producing a planetary nebula. 5

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