stellar evolution

Introduction

stellar evolution, life history of a star , beginning with its condensation out of the interstellar gas (see interstellar matter ) and ending, sometimes catastrophically, when the star has exhausted its nuclear fuel or can no longer adjust itself to a stable configuration. Because a star's total energy reserve is finite, a star shining today cannot continue to produce its present luminosity steadily into the indefinite future, nor can it have done so from the indefinite past. Thus, stellar evolution is a necessary consequence of the physical theory of stellar structure , which requires that the luminosity, temperature, and size of a star must change as its chemical composition changes because of thermonuclear reactions.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.