When you look up at the night sky – if you’re in a dark enough area – you’ll notice that the stars paint a beautiful picture using space as their canvas. Even if you live in an area with high levels of light pollution, you’ll still notice quite a bit of variation with each star in the sky. Have you ever wondered why this is? Or why star colors can be so different?
Well, if you have, then you’re definitely in the right place. We’ll be taking a look at star colors, why this variation occurs. Not only will we look at why this occurs, but we’ll even explain why stars in different stages may appear different as well.
Now, with that being said, everything will be broken down into easy-to-read sections. This way, even if you happen to know what a supergiant star is, you’ll be able to jump around to a section that’s helpful for you.
Here is a brief look at what we’ll be looking at today:
- Why are stars different colors?
- How to classify star colors?
- What color are the hottest stars?
- What color are the coolest stars?
- What color are young stars?
- What color are old stars?
- What color are supergiant stars?
So now that you know what’s coming up, let’s take a look at some star colors… shall we?
Why are stars different colors?
Before we get into individual star colors, it’s important to know the science behind star colors. This is due to the fact that the color difference is usually directly correlated to the stage that the star is in.
So why do they appear as different colors?
It all comes down to how hot the particular star is. For example, a really hot star will appear blue, while a cooler star will appear to be red. Now, keep in mind that these color types will have some variation, so stars can appear as:
The Doppler effect is also something that can influence the color of a star, and this is due to the fact that the distance of a star can play a role on the color that it appears to be. A star that tends to be further away may appear to be a different color shade, because the wavelength can become distorted.
So when it comes to star colors, it’s really a reflection of how hot the particular star actually is.
How to classify star colors?
Now that you have a grasp of why star colors tend to be different, it’s time to get into the meat and potatoes of this post. Therefore, in this section, we’ll be taking a look at how to classify certain star colors. Let’s take a look.
The Russell Diagram
Star classification is something that a lot of astronomers do in order to keep track of certain star colors. The Russell diagram classifies states based on their temperature, luminosity, and even mass. Also, the Russell diagram assigns a class and subclass to each star as well.
So what do these classes look like? And what color are they? Let’s take a look at the stars and star colors within them.
The younger stars (main sequence)
Younger stars are considered dwarf stars, and this is due to the fact that they appear to be very small. They lack the mass of larger stars like giant stars, but tend to burn very hot nonetheless.
Here is a look at some of the common main sequence stars:
- Dwarf stars are super young stars, and tend to be pretty small in mass – for a star at least (the sun that we orbit is actually a dwarf star)
- Yellow dwarf stars have a yellow color to them, and they tend to be a lot less hot than
- A red dwarf star is another type of dwarf star, but this one has a red color to it, which is based on the fact that it’s a bit cooler than other stars
Our very own sun (the star we orbit) is actually a dwarf star. Our sun is approximately 4.6 billion years old and is at the midpoint of its life. It will eventually expand into a Red Giant, swallowing the inner planets, until such time that it collapses into itself forming a white dwarf.
Giant stars are large, old, and still retain quite a bit of heat. Also, while a big star might appear like it’s in its prime, giant stars are actually much older than dwarf stars. Also, since they’re a bit older, they also tend to lose some heat as well (this gives them warmer color shades).
Here are some common giant stars:
- A red giant is an old star that lost a lot of heat, and bares the red color
- A blue giant star is also an old star, but this star burns helium at a much hotter temperature, which is what gives it that blue appearance
- A supergiant star can be as large as a solar system, and tends to be blue in color (we’ll have more for you on this star in just a moment)
Giant stars are very large, and tend to be on the warmer side of the color spectrum (red and yellow).
Faint or dead stars
These stars are exactly as the name suggests, and this is due to the fact that they lose a lot of their mass and heat. Faint or dead stars can lose their brightness, and they can even be too old to have nuclear fission as well.
Here is a look at some faint or dead stars:
- A brown dwarf star is a star that has lost so much heat and mass that it’s unable to have any type of nuclear fission
- A white dwarf star is in a similar situation as a brown dwarf star, but white dwarf stars still carry a lot of heat and density
- A neutron star is a super small star (only a radius of a few miles), and is comprised of mostly neutrons
- A pulsar star is a star that’s rapidly spinning
Faint or dead stars will typically be very dull in color, but in some cases they can be very bright before they dull out. So keep this in mind.
Binary stars tend to have some pretty unique traits, and they can even rotate around each other. They can vary in size and heat, and can even be dead stars as well.
Here is a look at the types of binary stars:
- A double star is a star that looks like two stars are essentially right next to each other (this can be a line of sight issue as well, so it can be misleading). Albireo A and B are a good example of a double star.
- A binary star is essentially two stars that rotate around each other
- An eclipsing binary star is a system of two stars that will appear to flicker, which is due to the fact that the two stars may cross paths
- An x-ray star is a binary system that has one dead star in it, and this can cause the system to emit x-rays as well
These stars can vary in color, but they’ll typically tend to be blue or white star colors. Often, all you’ll need to view these double and triple stars is a decent set of binoculars. If you have some laying around the house, great! If not, be sure to check out our article, best binoculars for astronomy beginners
There aren’t that many things to discuss about variable stars, but they’re definitely unique. This is due to the fact that these stars tend to vary in size, pulsation, and even brightness. These stars have a class of their own, because it’s hard for them to be placed in one signal category.
What color are the hottest stars?
We’ve shown you why star colors vary, and even how to classify star colors. So now that you know what to look for, and what you’re actually looking at, it’s time to start breaking down individual star colors. To begin, let’s have a look at the hottest stars that shine the brightest.
As we’ve mentioned earlier, it’s all about the heat. The hotter the star, the brighter it will shine. Now, with that being said, you can expect the hotter stars to be either blue or white. This is due to the fact that lighter colors tend to be based on hotter temperatures.
So in short, the hotter the star, the brighter the star colors.
What color are the coolest stars?
We know that all stars are giant flaming objects floating around, but did you know that some are far hotter than others? We’ve shown you the hottest star, but what about the color of the cooler ones? Let’s take a look.
The cooler stars will tend to be colors like red, orange, or even yellow. Warm colors tend to be a good indication that a star is cool, because it will also have less of a twinkle as well.
So in short, the cooler the star, the warmer the colors. It’s a bit strange to see it this way, because we tend to consider colors like red to be warm colors, but this is just how star colors work.
What color are young stars?
Stars actually go through a lifespan, and we touched on this earlier. This is important, because the lifespan of a star is a great indication of the color that it will be. So let’s take a look at the color of younger stars.
Young stars tend to burn much hotter and brighter than older stars, which means that they’ll typically have a blue shade of color to them. While this may be the case, it does depend on the star, so some young stars may actually be white.
So to wrap this up, younger stars will typically have a blue or white color to them.
What color are old stars?
Old stars tend to dwindle a bit. They’ll still be bright, and you’ll be able to see them, but you’ll notice that their light is starting to fizzle out a bit. So what color are old stars? Let’s have a look.
Stars go through many phases in their lives, and while they may grow to massive sizes with old age, that doesn’t mean that they retain heat. Therefore, old stars tend to carry a red and orange color with them.
The older the star, the more red it will typically appear.
What color are supergiant stars?
Supergiant stars are massive in size, and they also tend to be fairly bright. The name itself is pretty cool, but what about the color? Let’s take a look at what a supergiant star looks like.
What is a supergiant star?
Giant stars tend to be big enough on their own, but the supergiant star is truly massive. These stars are considered the largest in the universe, and this is due to the fact that they carry a massive amount of mass. So when you think about a supergiant star, think about the largest star you’ve ever seen.
What color are they?
As we mentioned earlier, size and temperature have a lot to do with star colors. So when you consider the color of a supergiant star, you’ll notice that they tend to be blue or white. More often than more they’ll appear white, but if you do look through a telescope you may notice a more solid blue color.
To keep things short and sweet, a supergiant star is going to be blue in color.
Star Colors – Final thoughts
We know that we went over a lot of information today, but when it comes to stargazing, the more you know the better your experience will be. While we did our best to explain why star colors are different, if you still have some lingering question, then we recommend check out this video on YouTube.
Also, if you really want to see and appreciate all of the star colors we went over, we definitely recommend using a telescope to really get a good eye on them. We did a comprehensive article that ranks the top telescopes available on Amazon. Be sure to check it out here!
The stars are your map through space, and if you want to navigate it properly, you’ll need to be able to read that map well. This is why we suggest a telescope as well, because it will act as your compass in a way.
If you ever feel a bit stuck, or unsure about a color you see through your telescope, don’t hesitate to use this post as a guide. We know how hard it can be to remember everything about such a vast area, so there is no shame in coming back.
Now that you know the facts about star colors, where will the night take you this time?
If you found this article interesting, be sure to check out our other, equally, interesting articles here on AstroJunkies.com.
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