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Andrew Peterson

Physics 1040
Blog #3/#4
August 6, 2014
The H-R Diagram

Up until the early part of the 20th century, we had no way of organizing stars, therefore
we werent able to understand them very well. Ejnar Hertzsprung and Henry Norris Russell saw
this as a problem individually. They then realized they found the same information based on the
luminosities of stars and thus created the H-R Diagram. The H-R Diagram is one of the most
used and useful diagrams in astronomy. You can tell everything about stars, just based on this
diagram.

The layout of the diagram is quite simple, with a few twists. The horizontal axis is the
surface temperature, but is highest on the left and coolest on the right. These temperatures are
more commonly represented by spectral types, which are: O-B-A-F-G-K-M, from hottest to
coldest. The temperature is plotted logarithmically, which means that the different steps along
the bottom are always the same factor of change. Along the vertical axis, the luminosity of stars
plotted is the total amount of energy that a star radiates each second. The more luminous stars
are towards the top and the less luminous stars are towards the bottom of the diagram. Just like
the temperature axis, luminosity is plotted logarithmically, in this case, as a multiple of 10 every
step. The reason that both of these are logarithmically is because the variation between stars
are so great, that it has to cover a lot of ground on the graph. Because the points are specified
by a surface temperature and its luminosity, one can find the radius of a star at that point also.
For example, a star in the upper right corner of the H-R diagram is cool, is also extremely
luminous. So, it must be huge to account for its high luminosity.

About 90 percent of the stars in the sky are in a region running across the H-R diagram
from the lower right to the upper left. This plane is called the main sequence. If you know where
a star lies on the main sequence, you know that it is still fusing Hydrogen into Helium and its
approximate luminosity, surface temperature, and size. If we know a main sequence stars
luminosity and apparent brightness, we can find the distance. This method is called
spectroscopic parallax, which is a little different from just normal parallax.

Not all stars are on the main sequence. These other stars are in the upper right portion
of the H-R diagram, so they are large, cool giants. These stars are nearing the end of their lives
and going through problems with fusion and degeneracy. That is for a whole other blog entry.
Other stars lie in the lower left portion, meaning that they are small, hot white dwarfs. Stars that
arent on the main sequence can be identified by their luminosities or by slight difference in their
spectral lines. When using the H-R diagram to estimate the distance to a star by the
spectroscopic parallax method, astronomers must know whether the star is on, above, or below
the main sequence in order to find the stars luminosity.

I hope this blog has explained a few of the basic principles of the H-R diagram and how
great of an achievement it was to discover something like this. This has just exploded our
understanding of stars and will continue to do so.