One day I had come early for meeting Natalia there. I had come to the planetarium long before Natalia normally arrived. The place was empty, except for a single other person, a man in bridge personnel uniform whom I vaguely remembered as having seen at the time of the crisis in the pit. I joined him. I sat next to him and started a conversation. I mentioned to him the puzzle that Natalia and I had puzzled over, whether one could actually see stars being born.
"That's easy," he says and starts to explain what he says is the most widely held theory of the various life cycles of the different types of stars.
He told a fascinating story.
"If only Natalia would have come early too!" I kept saying to myself. I knew she would have loved to hear his explanations. Since I had long been familiar with the ship's telescope, I was able to find examples of what he was talking about, with his guidance of course.
"The outcome depends on the size of a planet," he says after a brief pause. "The size of the planet in turn depends on the density of the clouds of gas, dust, and the electric currents that are present in the expanding arms of galaxies. All of that stuff is flowing inward towards the center of the galaxy, where the stars are formed. Gravitational attraction pulls the gas clouds together until they condense. Electric attraction adds to the mix. Magnetism is also abundant, and so are vast intergalactic plasma currents that converge at the galactic center. In this immensely powerful dynamic environment the stars are born. Some are big, some are small."
He says that it was once believed that if a star's mass is small, like that of Jupiter, which holds barely a tenth of the mass of the sun, the internal heat is insufficient to ignite the hydrogen fusion reaction that powers every sun according to the most commonly held theory of the Universe. A small star is then deemed to cool into a brown dwarf that remains unchanged for an indefinite time. He also says that modern discoveries indicate that every sun in the Universe is electrically heated, at its surface, being powered externally, rather than being a hydrogen fusion furnace burning like a continuously exploding thermonuclear bomb.
I shake my head and laugh. "You are putting me on. You are spinning a web of something that nobody can see."
"Of course, this can't be seen with a telescope," he comments quietly. "And what cannot be seen, can be imagined in different ways. The official story has it that any star with the approximate mass of our sun has a rather typical history. After it first ignites, the star goes through a jet phase where immense amounts of materials are blown away by its ignition explosions. The materials subsequently condense into planets that, like the Earth, will the orbit their sun."
It was not difficult to find a star that appeared to be in a jet phase. We could even see the blobs of matter that the star had spit out within its jet streams. "Some of these blobs have been observed with a size of up to five light years across," says the man. "A lump like this, only much smaller, might have been the cradle of the Earth. On the other hand, what we see might be just a gigantic light show of vast electric currents flowing in plasma. That is what a nebula is. Depending on the density and flow pattern of the electric currents, fantastic pattern of glowing rings and clouds, and amazing structures are formed. Often we find a large star at their center."
"Fascinating!" I say with a smile. "I have already seen some of those glowing structures and wondered how they came to be."
He says that there are many theories that people fight over to explain these structures. "Some are quite comical," he says. "One of the oldest theory has it that a typical sun exhausts its hydrogen in about ten billion years; after which two things happen. With the internal hydrogen-fusion explosion becoming halted, the outward pressure in the star subsides. At this stage a new cycle of collapse begins. It starts deep, as its center is drawn into itself, heating up the central core in the process, as it did before, only this time generating much greater temperatures, so much so that the star's outer layers expand into a red giant. However, when the internal heat becomes sufficient to ignite helium-burning nuclear fusion, the star will burn as before, for another season. Eventually the internal pressure caused by the fusion process becomes so great that it drives the core apart. This goes on until the helium is used up and helium fusion stops. As the result of this the core cools and contracts again and then re-ignites itself to burn the next heavier element in nuclear fusion. In this process the original hydrogen and helium becomes fused into carbon. At this point the star dies. All what will remain then is a slowly cooling white dwarf made of pure carbon, like a diamond in the sky. At this point the star is no longer a sun. It is dead...."
I was fascinated by the man telling me all this, and especially so when we were able to find examples of the various stages of a star's development according to this theory, which he emphasized was but a theory, a nice tale that remains without substance in proof. Apparently, he wasn't finished yet. He leaned back, crossed his legs, and made himself comfortable as though he had just begun.
I wished Natalia had come by. She usually did after her shift on every Wednesday. I told my newfound friend that his talk was most fascinating and that Natalia would certainly have loved to hear it.
"Fascinating!" he repeats. "Just wait!" he says. "You haven't seen anything yet. A star of ten solar masses is deemed go through the same process that burns hydrogen and the helium and so on, but being more massive, it will continue on burning as a nuclear furnace way past the carbon stage. The greater its mass is, the greater will be the gravity that acts on the star's core, and therefore the greater will be the temperature resulting from its cycles of contraction. Thus, in the case of a nuclear fusion furnace of ten solar masses a stage will be reached when its core becomes totally converted into iron.
"At this point," he says and begins to grin, "it becomes interesting." He says that iron has a special quality in that it absorbs energy rather than releasing it, which causes a phenomenal thing to happen. He says that as the core contracts more and more, all the while storing up energy in its iron atoms, a point will be reached when the gravity becomes so great that it literally crushes the atomic structure at the center of the star.
"Suddenly all the stored energy is released," he says. "The supercharged core rebounds, and in less than a second it throws off its entire energy in the form of immense shock waves that will so superheat the outer envelope of the star that the entire star literally explodes. The end result is a super nova, a fireball of immense size and of a brilliance that is greater than a billion suns combined. In a stellar holocaust of such proportions all the rest of the heavy elements are deemed to be concocted, including some that will eventually decay into uranium."
He says that the only thing that's left of a star after such an explosion, is a tiny clump of neutrons of unimaginable density which is put into a rapid spin, forming a fast rotating piece of matter with an extremely intense magnetic field extending from it, as the tiny clump has retained the original planet's magnetic field and gravity. It seems as if the entire star, ten times the size of our sun, had melted down into a lump the size of Manhattan, with none of its original magnetic field and gravity having been lost, which is now concentrated a hundred million times. He says that the field is so strong that it violently interacts with whatever particles its gravity attracts, whose atoms then become torn and distorted as the field rotates. He gestures with his hands to explain the process. "The violent distortion then causes them to emit bursts of radiation," he says. "The intensity is so great that it can be felt at huge distances. A pulsar, as such a star is officially called, can no longer be seen. It can only be heard..."
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