Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 60.djvu/315

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STELLAR EVOLUTION.

While some uncertainty must therefore prevail until further investigations have been completed regarding the exact stage at which the highest stellar temperatures are attained, there can be little doubt as to the path which is followed when through the long continued action of gravitation a young star like Vega develops into a star like the Sun. We are fortunate in possessing examples of a great number of intermediate stages in this orderly progress (Fig. 8). As condensation continues, and as the vapors which constitute the star continue to crowd upon each other, the stellar nucleus becomes denser and denser and the vast atmosphere of hydrogen gradually gives place to a much shallower atmosphere, in which hydrogen is still conspicuous, though it no longer predominates in a very striking manner over the other elements. The spectral lines of such elements as iron, magnesium, sodium and calcium,

PSM V60 D315 Characteristic spectra of white yellow and red stars.png

Fig. 8.

Characteristic spectra of
(a) white, (b) yellow, and (c) red stars (Huggins).

rise into prominence as the hydrogen lines fade. Meanwhile the light of the star undergoes a change of color, completely losing its bluish cast and assuming a distinctly yellow hue. There can be little if any doubt that our own sun once passed through the successive stages which are represented by the spectra shown in Fig. 8. The time which has elapsed since it acquired its present size and density as the result of the condensation of the great nebula in which the earth and the other planets also had their origin, covers many millions of years. It is fortunate for the study of stellar evolution that the stages through which the sun once passed are all exemplified in existing stars, which for unknown reasons began their stellar life at widely different times.

It will be profitable to consider for a moment some of the remarkable phenomena which are presented to us by the sun, not only because of their intrinsic interest, but also because it is perfectly safe to assume that similar phenomena, sometimes on a much greater scale, would be presented by other stars, were they not at so great a distance from the earth as to reduce them to mere points of light, even in the most power-