Main Sequence - Luminosity-color Variation


Luminosity-color Variation

As non-fusing helium ash accumulates in the core of a main-sequence star, the reduction in the abundance of hydrogen per unit mass results in a gradual lowering of the fusion rate within that mass. To compensate, the core temperature and pressure slowly increase, which causes a net increase in the overall fusion rate (to support the greater density of the inner star). This produces a steady increase in the luminosity and radius of the star over time. Thus, for example, the luminosity of the early Sun was only about 70% of its current value. As a star ages this luminosity increase changes its position on the HR diagram. This effect results in a broadening of the main sequence band because stars are observed at random stages in their lifetime. That is, the main sequence band develops a thickness on the HR diagram; it is not simply a narrow line.

Other factors that broaden the main sequence band on the HR diagram include uncertainty in the distance to stars and the presence of unresolved binary stars that can alter the observed stellar parameters. However, even perfect observation would show a fuzzy main sequence because mass is not the only parameter that affects a star's color and luminosity. In addition to variations in chemical composition—both because of the initial abundances and the star's evolutionary status, interaction with a close companion, rapid rotation, or a magnetic field can also change a main-sequence star's position slightly on the HR diagram, to name just a few factors. As an example, there are stars that have a very low abundance of elements with higher atomic numbers than helium—known as metal-poor stars—that lie just below the main sequence. Known as subdwarfs, these stars are also fusing hydrogen in their core and so they mark the lower edge of the main sequence's fuzziness resulting from chemical composition.

A nearly vertical region of the HR diagram, known as the instability strip, is occupied by pulsating variable stars known as Cepheid variables. These stars vary in magnitude at regular intervals, giving them a pulsating appearance. The strip intersects the upper part of the main sequence in the region of class A and F stars, which are between one and two solar masses. Pulsating stars in this part of the instability strip that intersects the upper part of the main sequence are called Delta Scuti variables. Main-sequence stars in this region experience only small changes in magnitude and so this variation is difficult to detect. Other classes of unstable main-sequence stars, like beta Cephei variables, are unrelated to this instability strip.

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