The Hertzsprung Russell Diagram

The most famous diagram in astronomy is the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram. This diagram is a plot of luminosity (absolute magnitude) against the colour of the stars ranging from the high-temperature blue-white stars on the left side of the diagram to the low temperature red stars on the right side.

This diagram below is a plot of 22000 stars from the Hipparcos Catalogue together with 1000 low-luminosity stars (red and white dwarfs) from the Gliese Catalogue of Nearby Stars. The ordinary hydrogen-burning dwarf stars like the Sun are found in a band running from top-left to bottom-right called the Main Sequence. Giant stars form their own clump on the upper-right side of the diagram. Above them lie the much rarer bright giants and supergiants. At the lower-left is the band of white dwarfs - these are the dead cores of old stars which have no internal energy source and over billions of years slowly cool down towards the bottom-right of the diagram.

The Hertzsprung-Russell Diagram

The Luminosity Classes of Stars

Stars are classified into five main luminosity classes. These are the five classes:

I Supergiants
Very massive and luminous stars near the end of their lives. They are subclassified as Ia or Ib, with Ia representing the brightest of these stars. These stars are very rare - 1 in a million stars is a supergiant. The nearest supergiant star is Canopus (F0Ib) 310 light years away. Some other examples are Betelgeuse (M2Ib), Antares (M1Ib) and Rigel (B8Ia).
II Bright Giants
Stars which have a luminosity between the giant and supergiant stars. Some examples are Sargas (F1II) and Alphard (K3II).
III Normal Giants
These are mainly low-mass stars at the end of their lives that have swelled to become a giant star. This category also includes some high mass stars evolving on their way to supergiant status. Some examples are Arcturus (K2III), Hadar (B1III) and Aldebaran (K5III).
IV Subgiants
Stars which have begun evolving to giant or supergiant status. Some examples are Alnair (B7IV) and Muphrid (G0IV). Note also Procyon which is entering this category and therefore is: F5IV-V.
V Dwarfs
All normal hydrogen-burning stars. Stars spend most of their lives in this category before evolving up the scale. Class O and B stars in this category are actually very bright and luminous and generally brighter than most Giant stars. Some examples are the Sun (G2V), Sirius (A1V), and Vega (A0V).
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