Institute of Astronomy

What to read on stellar theory?

Published on 26/01/2013 
Question: 

I am a current A2 Physics student and part of my course is a research project on a topic of our choice. Stars have always been interesting to me. To me, understanding how stars evolve and produce the elements that make up the world we see before us is fascinating. Could you recommend any scientific papers, journals or books?

Stars are indeed fascinating. There are many interesting areas of physics involved in understanding stellar evolution, from fluid mechanics to atomic physics. Understanding nucleosynthesis is not only important for understanding where the elements come from, but also how stars generate their energy.

You can find a lot of information online on this subject. Wikipedia is a good place to start (although you should know to be careful, as it's not a perfect source). I would also recommend this article by John Bahcall:

http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/articles/fusion/

Bahcall worked a lot on stellar models, in particular looking at the solar neutrino problem (which may be an interesting aside for you).

In terms of journal papers, it is difficult to make recommendations as (i) they are likely mostly too advanced and (ii) you will usually require a subscription to read them. Many more recent articles are available for free via arXiv, however most of the key research on nucleosynthesis was done in the early 20th century before the arXiv existed. However, there are two Nobel lectures (that would later be published as scientific reviews) that you should be able to read:

http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/1967/bethe-lecture.pdf

This is by Hans Bethe, who was very smart. He invented quantum electrodynamics on a the train home from a conference. He was actually a theoretical particle physicist, and only did a little work on stars.

http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/1983/fowler-lecture.pdf

This is by Willy Fowler, who did spend much of his career on nuclear reactions.

Textbooks are similarly difficult to recommend, as they are expensive. Really you need a nice library to purchase things for you. It might be best to see if you can find any books on stellar evolution locally and work with what you have. If you are looking for concrete recommendations, then I would say Stellar Structure and Evolution by Kippenhahn & Weigert is a good choice. Principles of Stellar Evolution and Nucleosynthesis by Clayton would be more detailed, but is also a little more old fashioned, and perhaps not as readable.

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Page last updated: 26 January 2013 at 17:28