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A star is a massive, luminous sphere of plasma held together by gravity. At the end of its lifetime, a star can also contain a proportion of degenerate matter. The nearest star to Earth is the Sun, which is the source of most of the energy on Earth. Other stars are visible from Earth during the night, when they are not obscured by atmospheric phenomena, appearing as a multitude of fixed luminous points because of their immense distance. Historically, the most prominent stars on the celestial sphere were grouped together into constellations and asterisms, and the brightest stars gained proper names. Extensive catalogues of stars have been assembled by astronomers, which provide standardized star designations.

Sun, our nearest star.

For at least a portion of its life, a star shines due to thermonuclear fusion of hydrogen in its core releasing energy that traverses the star's interior and then radiates into outer space. Almost all naturally occurring elements heavier than helium were created by stars, either via stellar nucleosynthesis during their lifetimes or by supernova nucleosynthesis when stars explode. Astronomers can determine the mass, age, chemical composition and many other properties of a star by observing its spectrum, luminosity and motion through space. The total mass of a star is the principal determinant in its evolution and eventual fate. Other characteristics of a star are determined by its evolutionary history, including diameter, rotation, movement and temperature. A plot of the temperature of many stars against their luminosities, known as a Hertzsprung–Russell diagram (H–R diagram), allows the age and evolutionary state of a star to be determined.

Sun Star.svg More about... stars: their formation, evolution, namings, structure and diversity

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Optical image of Arcturus (DSS2 / MAST / STScI / NASA)
Photo credit: Digitized Sky Survey, NASA

Arcturus (/ɑːrkˈtjʊərəs/; α Boo, α Boötis, Alpha Boötis) of the constellation Boötes is the brightest star in the northern celestial hemisphere. With a visual magnitude of −0.04, it is the fourth brightest star in the night sky, after −1.46 magnitude Sirius, −0.86 magnitude Canopus, and −0.27 magnitude Alpha Centauri. It is a relatively close star at only 36.7 light-years from Earth, and, together with Vega and Sirius, one of the most luminous stars in the Sun's neighborhood.

Arcturus is a type K0 III orange giant star, with an absolute magnitude of −0.30. It has likely exhausted its hydrogen from its core and is currently in its active hydrogen shell burning phase. It will continue to expand before entering horizontal branch stage of its life cycle.

Arcturus is a type K0 III Red giant star. It is at least 110 times more luminous than the Sun in visible light wavelengths, but this underestimates its strength as much of the "light" it gives off is in the infrared; total (bolometric) power output is about 180 times that of the Sun. The lower output in visible light is due to a lower efficacy as the star has a lower surface temperature than the Sun. As the brightest K-type giant in the sky, it was the subject of an atlas of its visible spectrum, made from photographic spectra taken with the coudé spectrograph of the Mt. Wilson 2.5m telescope published in 1968, a key reference work for stellar spectroscopy.


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The North Star and circumpolar stars in a photograph with a long shutter speed of several hours. Note that the stars near the celestial pole make less of a trail with the long exposure
Photo credit: User:LCGS Russ

A circumpolar star is a star that, as viewed from a given latitude on Earth, never sets (that is, never disappears below the horizon), due to its proximity to one of the celestial poles. Circumpolar stars are therefore visible from said location towards nearest pole for the entire night on every night of the year (and would be continuously visible throughout the day too, were they not overwhelmed by the Sun's glare). All circumpolar stars are within the circumpolar circle. This was in fact the original meaning of "Arctic Circle", before the current geographical meaning, meaning "Circle of the Bears" (Ursa Major, the Great Bear; and Ursa Minor, the Little Bear), from Greek αρκτικός (arktikos), "near the Bear", from the word άρκτος (arktos) bear.

As Earth spins daily on its axis, the stars appear to rotate in circular paths around one of the celestial poles (the north celestial pole for observers in the northern hemisphere, or the south celestial pole for observers in the southern hemisphere). Stars far from a celestial pole appear to rotate in large circles; stars located very close to a celestial pole rotate in small circles and hence hardly seem to engage in any diurnal motion at all. Depending on the observer's latitude on Earth, some stars — the circumpolar ones — are close enough to the celestial pole to remain continuously above the horizon, while other stars dip below the horizon for some portion of their daily circular path (and others remain permanently below the horizon).

The circumpolar stars appear to lie within a circle that is centered at the celestial pole and tangential to the horizon. At the Earth's North Pole, the north celestial pole is directly overhead, and all stars that are visible at all (that is, all stars in the northern celestial hemisphere) are circumpolar. As one travels south, the north celestial pole moves towards the northern horizon. More and more stars that are at a distance from it begin to disappear below the horizon for some portion of their daily "orbit", and the circle containing the remaining circumpolar stars becomes increasingly small. At the Earth's equator this circle vanishes to a single point – the celestial pole itself – which lies on the horizon, and there are therefore effectively no circumpolar stars at all.


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Stephen William Hawking
Photo credit: NASA

Stephen William Hawking, CH, CBE, FRS, FRSA (born 8 January 1942) is a British theoretical physicist, whose world-renowned scientific career spans over 40 years. His books and public appearances have made him an academic celebrity and he is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a lifetime member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, and in 2009 was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States.

Hawking was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge for thirty years, taking up the post in 1979 and retiring on 1 October 2009. He is also a Fellow of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge and a Distinguished Research Chair at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario. He is known for his contributions to the fields of cosmology and quantum gravity, especially in the context of black holes. He has also achieved success with works of popular science in which he discusses his own theories and cosmology in general; these include the runaway best seller A Brief History of Time, which stayed on the British Sunday Times bestsellers list for a record-breaking 237 weeks.

Hawking's key scientific works to date have included providing, with Roger Penrose, theorems regarding singularities in the framework of general relativity, and the theoretical prediction that black holes should emit radiation, which is today known as Hawking radiation (or sometimes as Bekenstein-Hawking radiation).

Hawking has a neuro-muscular dystrophy that is related to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a condition that has progressed over the years and has left him almost completely paralysed.


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A diagram of the Sun
Photo credit: commons:User:Pbroks13
An illustration of the structure of the Sun:
1. Core
2. Radiative zone
3. Convective zone
4. Photosphere
5. Chromosphere
6. Corona
7. Sunspot
8. Granules
9. Prominence

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