Color–color diagram

In astronomy, color–color diagrams are a means of comparing the apparent magnitudes of stars at different wavelengths. Astronomers typically observe at narrow bands around certain wavelengths, and objects observed will have different brightnesses in each band. The difference in brightness between two bands is referred to as color. On color–color diagrams, the color defined by two wavelength bands is plotted on the horizontal axis, and then the color defined by another brightness difference (though usually there is one band involved in determining both colors) will be plotted on the vertical axis.


Effective temperature and color index
Effective temperature of a black body compared with the B−V and U−B color index of main sequence and supergiant stars in what is called a color-color diagram.[1] Stars emit less ultraviolet radiation than a black body with the same B−V index.

Although stars are not perfect blackbodies, to first order the spectra of light emitted by stars conforms closely to a black-body radiation curve, also referred to sometimes as a thermal radiation curve. The overall shape of a black-body curve is uniquely determined by its temperature, and the wavelength of peak intensity is inversely proportional to temperature, a relation known as Wien's Displacement Law. Thus, observation of a stellar spectrum allows determination of its effective temperature. Obtaining complete spectra for stars through spectrometry is much more involved than simple photometry in a few bands. Thus by comparing the magnitude of the star in multiple different color indices, the effective temperature of the star can still be determined, as magnitude differences between each color will be unique for that temperature. As such, color-color diagrams can be used as a means of representing the stellar population, much like a Hertzsprung–Russell diagram, and stars of different spectral classes will inhabit different parts of the diagram. This feature leads to applications within various wavelength bands.

In the stellar locus, stars tend to align in a more or less straight feature. If stars were perfect black bodies, the stellar locus would be a pure straight line indeed. The divergences with the straight line are due to the absorptions and emission lines in the stellar spectra. These divergences can be more or less evident depending on the filters used: narrow filters with central wavelength located in regions without lines, will produce a response close to the black body one, and even filters centered at lines if they are broad enough, can give a reasonable blackbody-like behavior.

Therefore, in most cases the straight feature of the stellar locus can be described by Ballesteros' formula [2] deduced for pure blackbodies:

where A, B, C and D are the magnitudes of the stars measured through filters with central frequencies νa, νb, νc and νd respectively, and k is a constant depending on the central wavelength and width of the filters, given by:

Note that the slope of the straight line depends only on the effective wavelength, not in the filter width.

Although this formula cannot be directly used to calibrate data, if one has data well calibrated for two given filters, it can be used to calibrate data in other filters. It can be used to measure the effective wavelength midpoint of an unknown filter too, by using two well known filters. This can be useful to recover information on the filters used for the case of old data, when logs are not conserved and filter information has been lost.


Photometric calibration

A schematic illustration of the stellar locus regression method of photometric calibration in astronomy.

The color-color diagram of stars can be used to directly calibrate or to test colors and magnitudes in optical and infrared imaging data. Such methods take advantage of the fundamental distribution of stellar colors in our galaxy across the vast majority of the sky, and the fact that observed stellar colors (unlike apparent magnitudes) are independent of the distance to the stars. Stellar locus regression (SLR)[3] was a method developed to eliminate the need for standard star observations in photometric calibrations, except highly infrequently (once a year or less) to measure color terms. SLR has been used in a number of research initiatives. The NEWFIRM survey of the NOAO Deep Wide-Field Survey region used it to arrive at more accurate colors than would have otherwise been attainable by traditional calibration methods, and South Pole Telescope used SLR in the measurement of redshifts of galaxy clusters.[4] The blue-tip method[5] is closely related to SLR, but was used mainly to correct Galactic extinction predictions from IRAS data. Other surveys have used the stellar color-color diagram primarily as a calibration diagnostic tool, including The Oxford-Dartmouth Thirty Degree Survey[6] and Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS).[7]

Color outliers

Analyzing data from large observational surveys, such as the SDSS or 2 Micron All Sky Survey (2MASS), can be challenging due to the huge number of data produced. For surveys such as these, color-color diagrams have been used to find outliers from the main sequence stellar population. Once these outliers are identified, they can then be studied in more detail. This method has been used to identify ultracool subdwarfs.[8][9] Unresolved binary stars, which appear photometrically to be points, have been identified by studying color-color outliers in cases where one member is off the main sequence.[10] The stages of the evolution of stars along the asymptotic giant branch from carbon star to planetary nebula appear on distinct regions of color–color diagrams.[11] Quasars also appear as color-color outliers.[10]

Star formation

Trapezium cluster optical and infrared comparison
The optical image (left) shows clouds of dust, while the infrared image (right) displays a number of young stars. Credit: C. R. O'Dell-Vanderbilt University, NASA, and ESA.

Color–color diagrams are often used in infrared astronomy to study star forming regions. Stars form in clouds of dust. As the star continues to contract, a circumstellar disk of dust is formed, and this dust is heated by the star inside. The dust itself then begins to radiate as a blackbody, though one much cooler than the star. As a result, an excess of infrared radiation is observed for the star. Even without circumstellar dust, regions undergoing star formation exhibit high infrared luminosities compared to stars on the main sequence.[12] Each of these effects is distinct from the reddening of starlight which occurs as a result of scattering off of dust in the interstellar medium.

Trapez ccdiag
Color–color diagram of the Trapezium cluster shows that many cluster members exhibit infrared excess, which is characteristic of stars with circumstellar disks.

Color–color diagrams allow for these effects to be isolated. As the color–color relationships of main sequence stars are well known, a theoretical main sequence can be plotted for reference, as is done with the solid black line in the example to the right. Interstellar dust scattering is also well understood, allowing bands to be drawn on a color–color diagram defining the region in which stars reddened by interstellar dust are expected to be observed, indicated on the color–color diagram by dashed lines. The typical axes for infrared color–color diagrams have (H–K) on the horizontal axis and (J–H) on the vertical axis (see infrared astronomy for information on band color designations). On a diagram with these axes, stars which fall to the right of the main sequence and the reddening bands drawn are significantly brighter in the K band than main sequence stars, including main sequence stars which have experienced reddening due to interstellar dust. Of the J, H, and K bands, K is the longest wavelength, so objects which are anomalously bright in the K band are said to exhibit infrared excess. These objects are likely protostellar in nature, with the excess radiation at long wavelengths caused by suppression by the reflection nebula in which the protostars are embedded.[13] Color–color diagrams can be used then as a means of studying stellar formation, as the state of a star in its formation can be roughly determined by looking at its position on the diagram.[14]

See also


  1. ^ Figure modeled after E. Böhm-Vitense (1989). "Figure 4.9". Introduction to Stellar Astrophysics: Basic stellar observations and data. Cambridge University Press. p. 26. ISBN 0-521-34869-2.
  2. ^ Ballesteros, F.J. (2012). "New insights into black bodies". EPL 97 (2012) 34008.
  3. ^ F. W. High; et al. (2009). "Stellar Locus Regression: Accurate Color Calibration and the Real-Time Determination of Galaxy Cluster Photometric Redshifts". The Astronomical Journal. 138 (1): 110–129. arXiv:0903.5302. Bibcode:2009AJ....138..110H. doi:10.1088/0004-6256/138/1/110.
  4. ^ F. W. High; et al. (2010). "Optical Redshift and Richness Estimates for Galaxy Clusters Selected with the Sunyaev-Zel'dovich Effect from 2008 South Pole Telescope Observations". The Astrophysical Journal. 723 (2): 1736–1747. arXiv:1003.0005. Bibcode:2010ApJ...723.1736H. doi:10.1088/0004-637X/723/2/1736.
  5. ^ E. Schlafly; et al. "The Blue Tip of the Stellar Locus: Measuring Reddening with the SDSS". arXiv:1009.4933. Bibcode:2010ApJ...725.1175S. doi:10.1088/0004-637X/725/1/1175.
  6. ^ E. MacDonald; et al. (2004). "The Oxford-Dartmouth Thirty Degree Survey – I. Observations and calibration of a wide-field multiband survey". Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. 352 (4): 1255–1272. arXiv:astro-ph/0405208. Bibcode:2004MNRAS.352.1255M. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2966.2004.08014.x.
  7. ^ Z. Ivezic; et al. (2007). "Sloan Digital Sky Survey Standard Star Catalog for Stripe 82: The Dawn of Industrial 1% Optical Photometry". The Astronomical Journal. 134 (3): 973–998. arXiv:astro-ph/0703157. Bibcode:2007AJ....134..973I. doi:10.1086/519976.
  8. ^ Burgasser, A. J.; Cruz, K.L.; Kirkpatrick, J.D. (2007). "Optical Spectroscopy of 2MASS Color-selected Ultracool Subdwarfs". Astrophysical Journal. 657 (1): 494–510. arXiv:astro-ph/0610096. Bibcode:2007ApJ...657..494B. doi:10.1086/510148.
  9. ^ Gizis, J.E.; et al. (2000). "New Neighbors from 2MASS: Activity and Kinematics at the Bottom of the Main Sequence". Astronomical Journal. 120 (2): 1085–1099. arXiv:astro-ph/0004361. Bibcode:2000AJ....120.1085G. doi:10.1086/301456.
  10. ^ a b Covey, K.R.; et al. (2007). "Stellar SEDs from 0.3 to 2.5 micron: Tracing the Stellar Locus and Searching for Color Outliers in the SDSS and 2MASS". Astronomical Journal. 134 (6): 2398–2417. arXiv:0707.4473. Bibcode:2007AJ....134.2398C. doi:10.1086/522052.
  11. ^ Ortiz, R.; et al. (2005). "Evolution from AGB to planetary nebula in the MSX survey". Astronomy and Astrophysics. 431 (2): 565–574. arXiv:astro-ph/0411769. Bibcode:2005A&A...431..565O. doi:10.1051/0004-6361:20040401.
  12. ^ C. Struck-Marcell; B.M. Tinsley (1978). "Star formation rates and infrared radiation". Astrophysical Journal. 221: 562–566. Bibcode:1978ApJ...221..562S. doi:10.1086/156057.
  13. ^ Lada, C.J.; et al. (2000). "Infrared L-Band Observations of the Trapezium Cluster: A Census of Circumstellar Disks and Candidate Protostars". The Astronomical Journal. 120 (6): 3162–3176. arXiv:astro-ph/0008280. Bibcode:2000AJ....120.3162L. doi:10.1086/316848.
  14. ^ Charles Lada; Fred Adams (1992). "Interpreting infrared color-color diagrams – Circumstellar disks around low- and intermediate-mass young stellar objects". Astrophysical Journal. 393: 278–288. Bibcode:1992ApJ...393..278L. doi:10.1086/171505.

External links

Blanketing effect

The blanketing effect (also referred to as line blanketing or the line-blanketing effect) is the enhancement of the red or infrared regions of a stellar spectrum at the expense of the other regions, with an overall diminishing effect on the whole spectrum. The term originates in a 1928 article by astrophysicist Edward Arthur Milne, where it was used to describe the effects that the astronomical metals in a star's outer regions had on that star's spectrum. The name arose because the absorption lines act as a "blanket", causing the continuum temperature of the spectrum to rise over what it would have been if these lines were not present.Astronomical metals, which produce most of a star's spectral absorption lines, absorb a fraction of the star's radiant energy (a phenomenon known as the blocking effect) and then re-emit it at a lower frequency as part of the backwarming effect. The combination of both these effects results in the position of stars in a color-color diagram to shift towards redder areas as the proportion of metals in them increases. The blanketing effect is thus highly dependent on the metallicity index of a star, which indicates the fraction of elements other than hydrogen and helium that compose it.


Blitzars are a hypothetical type of astronomical object in which a spinning pulsar rapidly collapses into a black hole. They are proposed as an explanation for fast radio bursts (FRBs). The idea was proposed in 2013 by Heino Falcke and Luciano Rezzolla.

Bright giant

The luminosity class II in the Yerkes spectral classification is given to bright giants. These are stars which straddle the boundary between ordinary giants and supergiants, based on the appearance of their spectra.

CN star

A CN star is a star with strong cyanogen bands in its spectrum. Cyanogen is a simple molecule of one carbon atom and one nitrogen atom, with absorption bands around 388.9 and 421.6 nm. This group of stars was first noticed by Nancy G. Roman who called them 4150 stars.

Frozen star (hypothetical star)

In astronomy, a frozen star, besides a disused term for a black hole, is a type of hypothetical star that, according to the astronomers Fred Adams and Gregory P. Laughlin, may appear in the future of the Universe when the metallicity of the interstellar medium is several times the solar value. Frozen stars would belong to a spectral class "H", due to being rich in hydrides.

Infrared dark cloud

An infrared dark cloud (IRDC) is a cold, dense region of a giant molecular cloud. They can be seen in silhouette against the bright diffuse mid-infrared emission from the galactic plane.

Iron star

In astronomy, an iron star is a hypothetical type of compact star that could occur in the universe in the extremely far future, after perhaps 101500 years.

The premise behind iron stars states that cold fusion occurring via quantum tunnelling would cause the light nuclei in ordinary matter to fuse into iron-56 nuclei. Fission and alpha-particle emission would then make heavy nuclei decay into iron, converting stellar-mass objects to cold spheres of iron. The formation of these stars is only a possibility if protons do not decay. Though the surface of a neutron star may be iron, according to some predictions, it is distinct from an iron star.

Unrelatedly, the term is also used for blue supergiants which have a forest of forbidden FeII lines in their spectra. They are potentially quiescent hot luminous blue variables. Eta Carinae has been described as a prototypical example.

Lambda Boötis star

A Lambda Boötis star is a type of peculiar star which has an unusually low abundance of iron peak elements in its surface layers. One possible explanation for this is that it is the result of accretion of metal-poor gas from a circumstellar disc, and a second possibility is the accretion of material from a hot Jupiter suffering from mass loss. The prototype is Lambda Boötis.

Lead star

A lead star is a low-metallicity star with an overabundance of lead and bismuth as compared to other products of the S-process.

List of hottest stars

This is a list of hottest stars so far discovered (excluding degenerate stars), arranged by decreasing temperature. The stars with temperatures higher than 60,000 K are included.

OB star

OB stars are hot, massive stars of spectral types O or early-type B that form in loosely organized groups called OB associations. They are short lived, and thus do not move very far from where they formed within their life. During their lifetime, they will emit much ultraviolet radiation. This radiation rapidly ionizes the surrounding interstellar gas of the giant molecular cloud, forming an H II region or Strömgren sphere.

In lists of spectra the "spectrum of OB" refers to "unknown, but belonging to an OB association so thus of early type".

Photometric-standard star

Photometric-standard stars are a series of stars that have had their light output in various passbands of photometric system measured very carefully. Other objects can be observed using CCD cameras or photoelectric photometers connected to a telescope, and the flux, or amount of light received, can be compared to a photometric-standard star to determine the exact brightness, or stellar magnitude, of the object.A current set of photometric-standard stars for UBVRI photometry was published by Arlo U. Landolt in 1992 in the Astronomical Journal.


The photosphere is a star's outer shell from which light is radiated. The term itself is derived from Ancient Greek roots, φῶς, φωτός/phos, photos meaning "light" and σφαῖρα/sphaira meaning "sphere", in reference to it being a spherical surface that is perceived to emit light. It extends into a star's surface until the plasma becomes opaque, equivalent to an optical depth of approximately 2/3, or equivalently, a depth from which 50% of light will escape without being scattered.

In other words, a photosphere is the deepest region of a luminous object, usually a star, that is transparent to photons of certain wavelengths.

Q star

A Q-Star, also known as a grey hole, is a hypothetical type of a compact, heavy neutron star with an exotic state of matter. The Q stands for a conserved particle number. A Q-Star may be mistaken for a stellar black hole.

Starfield (astronomy)

A starfield refers to a set of stars visible in an arbitrarily-sized field of view, usually in the context of some region of interest within the celestial sphere. For example: the starfield surrounding the stars Betelgeuse and Rigel could be defined as encompassing some or all of the Orion constellation.

Stellar atmosphere

The stellar atmosphere is the outer region of the volume of a star, lying above the stellar core, radiation zone and convection zone.

Stellar mass

Stellar mass is a phrase that is used by astronomers to describe the mass of a star. It is usually enumerated in terms of the Sun's mass as a proportion of a solar mass (M☉). Hence, the bright star Sirius has around 2.02 M☉. A star's mass will vary over its lifetime as additional mass becomes accreted, such as from a companion star, or mass is ejected with the stellar wind or pulsational behavior.

Supernova impostor

Supernova impostors are stellar explosions that appear at first to be a supernova but do not destroy their progenitor stars. As such, they are a class of extra-powerful novae. They are also known as Type V supernovae, Eta Carinae analogs, and giant eruptions of luminous blue variables (LBV).

Yellow giant

A yellow giant is a luminous giant star of low or intermediate mass (roughly 0.5–11 solar masses (M)) in a late phase of its stellar evolution. The outer atmosphere is inflated and tenuous, making the radius large and the surface temperature as low as 5,200-7500 K. The appearance of the yellow giant is from white to yellow, including the spectral types F and G. About 10.6 percent of all giant stars are yellow giants.

Luminosity class
Star systems
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