Stellar classification

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In astronomy, stellar classification is a classification of stars based on their spectral characteristics. The spectral class of a star is a designated class of a star describing the ionization of its chromosphere, what atomic excitations are most prominent in the light, giving an objective measure of the temperature in this chromosphere. Light from the star is analyzed by splitting it up by a diffraction grating, subdividing the incoming photons into a spectrum exhibiting a rainbow of colors interspersed by absorption lines, each line indicating a certain ion of a certain chemical element. The presence of a certain chemical element in such an absorption spectrum primarily indicates that the temperature conditions are suitable for a certain excitation of this element. If the star temperature has been determined by a majority of absorption lines, unusual absences or strengths of lines for a certain element may indicate an unusual chemical composition of the chromosphere.

Most stars are currently classified using the letters O, B, A, F, G, K, and M (usually memorized by astrophysicists as "Oh, be a fine girl/guy, kiss me"), where O stars are the hottest and the letter sequence indicates successively cooler stars up to the coolest M class. According to informal tradition, O stars are called "blue", B "blue-white", A stars "white", F stars "yellow-white", G stars "yellow", K stars "orange", and M stars "red", even though the actual star colors perceived by an observer may deviate from these colors depending on visual conditions and individual stars observed. The current non-alphabetical scheme developed from an earlier scheme using all letters from A to O; the old letters were retained but the star classes were re-ordered in the current temperature order when the connection between the stars' class and temperatures became clear. A few star classes were dropped as duplicates of others.

In the current star classification system, the Morgan-Keenan system, the spectrum letter is enhanced by a number from 0 to 9 indicating tenths of the range between two star classes, so that A5 is five tenths between A0 and F0, but A2 is two tenths of the full range from A0 to F0. Another dimension that is included in the Morgan-Keenan system is the luminosity class expressed by the Roman numbers I, II, III, IV and V, expressing the width of certain absorption lines in the star's spectrum. It has been shown that this feature is a general measure of the size of the star, and thus of the total luminosity output from the star. Class I are generally called supergiants, class III simply giants and class V either dwarfs or more properly main sequence stars. For example our Sun has the spectral type G2V, which might be interpreted as "a 'yellow' two tenths towards 'orange' main sequence star". The apparently brightest star Sirius has type A1V.


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