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Stellar Death

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Understanding stellar evolution is important to astronomers because it allows them to estimate star age using spectroscopic studies, even though a star might be isolated and not part of a cluster. Star clusters form when an interstellar cloud collapses and fragments. Stars evolve within a cluster with the most massive stars evolving the fastest and creating the heaviest elements in their cores; although lower-mass stars take longer to evolve, they can also create heavy elements. Newly formed elements are scattered into the interstellar medium as the result of supernovae in the case of high-mass stars and in the case of low-mass stars when they shed their envelopes in the form of planetary nebulae. Star formation, evolution, and explosion is a continual process that imbues the interstellar medium with heavy elements and enables the formation of new stars. There would not be life on Earth without the elements generated by supernovae (McMillan, 2011).
After a high-mass star explodes in a supernova all that is left intact is a relatively small, about the size of a small asteroid, very massive ball of neutrons. This remnant is called a neutron star, even though it is not actually a star. New neutron stars rotate very rapidly and have extremely strong magnetic fields with hot spots localized near the magnetic poles where radiation is emitted in concentrated beams of light that radiate through the cosmos like a revolving beacon. If the neutron star is positioned so that the beam passes across the Earth, the light is seen as pulsing and the neutron star is called a pulsar. While all pulsars are neutron stars, not all neutron stars are seen as pulsars because in time a neutron star’s intense magnetic field and rapid rotation ...

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...can contribute energy to the remnants for a long time after the explosion, which is what astronomers believe is the case in the Crab Nebula (Rothstein, 2003).

References
McMillan, C. (2011). Astronomy today (7th ed., Vol. II). Boston, MA: Addison-Wesly.
Rothstein, D. (2003, May). How long do supernova remnants last. Retrieved March 5, 2014, from http://curious.astro.cornell.edu/question.php?number=533
Sometimes the final stages of the life of a star result in violent explosions. (n.d.). Retrieved March 4, 2014, from http://ircamera.as.arizona.edu/natsci102/natsci102/lectures/supernovae.htm
Stromberg, J. (2013, July 17). All the gold in the universe could come from the collisions of neutron stars. Retrieved March 4, 2014, from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/all-the-gold-in-the-universe-could-come-from-the-collisions-of-neutron-stars-13474145/?no-1st
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