Volume XXVII Number 1

January/February 2001

Upcoming Highlights


January 11, 2001 - 7:30 p.m.- Reading Public Museum

This is an open invitation to all new and old members of BCAAS. My talk for this meeting will be about old theories that i have developed and some new ones on cosmic theory debunking some standard theories that are well known, as well as giving insight on other schools of thought. If you would like an evening that will give you a lot to think about then please attend. This will be one of the few times that I will stay serious about something although i can't guarantee it. I promise you will enjoy. Feel free to disagree with me, it still won't change my mind!"

-Dave Brown

(Past BCAAS President, Vice-President, and future Dictator of the Free World)

February 8, 2001 - 7:30 p.m.- Reading Public Museum

-Virtual Messier Marathon by Ron Kunkel. Come out and get the "feel" for doing a maratho without the cold weather! Then try the real thing in March.

In this issue:

1. Upcoming Highlights
Presidents message
Eclipse Photo
4. Editors Note
A Layman’s Guide to Stellar Evolution
Seasons Greetings

Pegasus is a bimonthly publication of the Berks County Amateur Astronomical Society

Editor/Desktop publisher: Bob and Joanne Capone

E-Mail submissions may be made to:

President’s message

Welcome to the 21st century! The year 2001 "of a space odyssey" or in the case of BCAAS - a club oddity. Anyway we've had a lot of fun this past year, and we will have more this year. With any luck we can shake the BCAAS weather jinx and improve on our number of successful public events. We hope to give you the opportunity to express yourselves in club functions and events, and to partake of some special events such as the A.L. convention, a stones throw away in Maryland, this Summer. Our Astronomy Day event will be early in April again as we join with the Museum for a day of science fun. Perhaps a bright new comet will appear to spark not only the public's, but also our own interest in astronomy. A field trip may also be in the offering. We are a strong group and will remain strong as we ourselves enjoy the wonders of the heavens, and continue to share them with our families, friends, and the general public.

Barry L. Shupp, Pres. BCAAS

Eclipse Photo :

This is one of my eclipse photos courtesy of a holey shade.

Barry L. Shupp

Editors Note :

Well this is one of those bitter sweet letters. I’ve been a member of the club for as long as I can remember. I’ve been president of vice, uh, I mean vice president, and the past few years I’ve been the editor of the Pegasus. it saddens me that an era needs to come to an end. I have other interests and obligations that keep me from being involved with the club at the level I’m use to. I will not be rejoining the club this year and I’m looking for someone to take over the responsabilities as editor of the Pegasus. I’ve had many fun times and enjoyed meeting all of you. I will really miss Dave Brown's antics! You’ve giving me more than a few laughs and I thank you for that. keep the club in the same context and it will flourish. never give up the laughs. it’s the part of the club I will miss the most. I hope you’ve enjoyed my handy work as much as I’ve enjoyed bringing the newsletter to you.

If your interested in taking over the Pegasus, please e-mail me or contact me by phone.


Bob Capone : 610-929-7971


A Layman's Guide to Stellar Evolution

This article is part of a series dealing with stellar evolution. The articles are written by a layman to convey that understanding to others. To that extent, errors and omissions should be excused. The series will cover the formation of stars, their energy production, assemblages, and their deaths. For comments, please contact the author.

Article 9, The Formation of Neutron Stars and Black Holes

In a prior article we traced the evolution of a solar mass star after it exhausted it's Hydrogen and Helium fusion sources. These stars became Red Giants, which then evolved into a planetary nebula and left behind the naked core of the former star, a White Dwarf. In this article we trace the evolution of larger mass stars (greater than 10 solar masses) beyond their Supergiant phase as they exhaust their sources of fusionable materials. This discussion will be broken down into two scenarios, e.g. stars with about 10 solar masses and those greater than 30-50 solar masses, due to their very different end states.

A 10 solar mass Main Sequence (M-S) star will evolve from the M-S into a Supergiant. As the M-S star exhausts a given fusion fuel, it's core contracts, heats and ignites a new fusion shells of successively heavier elements from Carbon, Neon, Oxygen, Silicon on to Iron. However, the fusion process stops producing energy when the core is hot enough to fuse Iron. Iron fusion requires energy rather than generating energy, and the sudden loss of energy flow causes the core to collapse very rapidly, in less than 1 second. If the core mass is larger than 1.4 but less than 2 to 3 solar masses, the core collapses past the degenerate matter phase seen in White Dwarfs and instead compresses to the density of an atomic neutron. The core forms an extremely small, extremely dense object called a Neutron star. The collapse is halted by the strong nuclear force, but by then the size of the core, now called a Neutron star, is only about 12 miles diameter, and it has the enormous density of about a billion tons per cubic centimeter. The surface of the Neutron star is actually thought to be a solid. When the outer layers of the collapsing former star rebound off the solid surface of the Neutron star, core, the implosion is turned into an violent explosion, and the outer layers of the former star are violently blown off into space in an event known as a supernova. The remnant core left after the supernova is a small rapidly spinning Neutron star, aka Pulsar. Readily visible for these objects is the expanding explosion shell of the supernova, e.g. the outer layers of the star. These expanding shells are also called Planetary nebulas and are observable for 10's of thousands of years before they become too faint to detect. Note, Pulsars and the more recently discovered Magnetars are subtypes of Neutron stars. Pulsars are typically young Neutron stars, and Magnetars are highly magnetized versions of Neutron stars. An example of a young Neutron star and it's remnant planetary nebular is M1, the famous Crab Nebula. This star went supernova in July of 1054 AD and was observed and recorded by Chinese astronomers and possibly by the Anastasi Indians of the Southwestern U.S. By the Chinese accounts, during the supernova event, this star was visible for many weeks in broad daylight.

The characteristics of a Neutron Star are utterly impressive. 1.4 to 3 solar masses are compressed into a sphere about 12 miles in diameter. The density is 10^14, 10 with 14 zeros, times the density of water. The force of gravity on the surface of this star is about 600 billion times that on the Earth's surface. The dense object rotates at 50 times per second, and has a very intense magnetic field of 10^12 gauss. Note, the Earth's magnetic field strength is only about 0.5 gauss. Because of the high spin rate and intense magnetic field, the Neutron star emits a furious particle "pulsar wind". The pulsar wind is often concentrated out the magnetic poles. And when the magnetic axis is offset from the rotational axis, the resultant "beamed" pulsar wind from the Pulsar makes the object appear to pulse off and on. In reality this is an artifact produced by the motion of the beam repeatedly sweeping past the Earth at a very rapid rate, and hence the reason why they are often called Pulsars.

A 30-50 solar mass M-S star will also evolve from the M-S and into a Supergiant. Similar to the evolution of the 10 solar mass star, the more massive star will evolve through the successive stages of shell fusion of the various elements until the core becomes filled with Iron. And again because the fusion of Iron does not generate energy, the core then violently collapses when Iron fusion begins. But if the core mass is greater than about 3 solar masses, not even the density of the neutron is sufficient to halt the relentless crush of gravity. The core of the star is believed to ultimately collapse into an enigma called a Black Hole. But by the very latest theoretical models the collapse occurs in two stages. First a rapidly spinning Neutron star is formed with it's resultant Supernova event. Then after about 10 years, after the Neutron star has slowed and lost some energy, it implodes a second time and forms a Black Hole. And as in the case of the formation of the Neutron star, again some of the outer layers of the Neutron star are also blown off into space in a prodigious blast of X-rays and gamma radiation. This later event is called a hypernova by some scientists and is possibly the most violent event know to occur in the universe. In a very recent development, the observed events called a Gamma Ray Bursts (GRB), are now believed to be the very signature of these theorized hypernove, e.g. the formation of a black hole from a Neutron star. They are observable from the farthest reaches of the universe.

Hypernova events are rare, if only because so few massive stars exist in our galaxy and which evolve into this stage. However, in the early universe, massive stars were formed more frequently, and thus hypernova would have been much more common in this earlier epoch. And in fact GRB's are observed at the rate of about one per day, but they typically exist a very large distances, indicative of originating in a much earlier epoch. The size and mass density of the resultant Black Hole formed by the hypernova is so extreme that no energy escapes from the Black Hole itself. The Black Hole itself is undetectable, and only it's effect on matter via it's enormous gravitation field in it's immediate environment is detectable. The observational signature of hypernova, Black Holes, and GRB's are only now beginning to be deciphered.

For this entire series of articles on stellar evolution, we have been discussing the evolution of a star as single entity existing in space. But somewhere between 50 and 80% of all starts exist in multiple star systems. In the next article and last article of this series we see how the evolution of a single star can be affected by the presence of a second or multiple stars in the system.

Submitted by Ron Kunkle

Merry Christmas
Happy New Year

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