Convection zone

A convection zone, convective zone or convective region of a star is a layer which is unstable to convection. Energy is primarily or partially transported by convection in such a region. In a radiation zone, energy is transported by radiation and conduction.

Stellar convection consists of mass movement of plasma within the star which usually forms a circular convection current with the heated plasma ascending and the cooled plasma descending.

The Schwarzschild criterion expresses the conditions under which a region of a star is unstable to convection. A parcel of gas that rises slightly will find itself in an environment of lower pressure than the one it came from. As a result, the parcel will expand and cool. If the rising parcel cools to a lower temperature than its new surroundings, so that it has a higher density than the surrounding gas, then its lack of buoyancy will cause it to sink back to where it came from. However, if the temperature gradient is steep enough (i. e. the temperature changes rapidly with distance from the center of the star), or if the gas has a very high heat capacity (i. e. its temperature changes relatively slowly as it expands) then the rising parcel of gas will remain warmer and less dense than its new surroundings even after expanding and cooling. Its buoyancy will then cause it to continue to rise. The region of the star in which this happens is the convection zone.

Structure of Stars (artist’s impression)
An illustration of the structure of the Sun and a red giant star, showing their convective zones. These are the granular zones in the outer layers of the stars.

Main sequence stars

In main sequence stars more than 1.3 times the mass of the Sun, the high core temperature causes nuclear fusion of hydrogen into helium to occur predominantly via the carbon-nitrogen-oxygen (CNO) cycle instead of the less temperature-sensitive proton-proton chain. The high temperature gradient in the core region forms a convection zone that slowly mixes the hydrogen fuel with the helium product. The core convection zone of these stars is overlaid by a radiation zone that is in thermal equilibrium and undergoes little or no mixing.[1] In the most massive stars, the convection zone may reach all the way from the core to the surface.[2]

In main sequence stars of less than about 1.3 solar masses, the outer envelope of the star contains a region where partial ionization of hydrogen and helium raises the heat capacity. The relatively low temperature in this region simultaneously causes the opacity due to heavier elements to be high enough to produce a steep temperature gradient. This combination of circumstances produces an outer convection zone, the top of which is visible in the Sun as solar granulation. Low mass main sequences of stars, such as red dwarfs below 0.35 solar masses,[3] as well as pre-main sequence stars on the Hayashi track, are convective throughout and do not contain a radiation zone.[4]

In main sequence stars similar to the Sun, which have a radiative core and convective envelope, the transition region between the convection zone and the radiation zone is called the tachocline.

Red giants

In red giant stars, and particularly during the asymptotic giant branch phase, the surface convection zone varies in depth during the phases of shell burning. This causes dredge-up events, short-lived very deep convection zones that transport fusion products to the surface of the star.[5]


  1. ^ Behrend, R.; Maeder, A. (2001). "Formation of massive stars by growing accretion rate". Astronomy and Astrophysics. 373: 190. arXiv:astro-ph/0105054. Bibcode:2001A&A...373..190B. doi:10.1051/0004-6361:20010585.
  2. ^ Martins, F.; Depagne, E.; Russeil, D.; Mahy, L. (2013). "Evidence of quasi-chemically homogeneous evolution of massive stars up to solar metallicity". Astronomy & Astrophysics. 554: A23. arXiv:1304.3337. Bibcode:2013A&A...554A..23M. doi:10.1051/0004-6361/201321282.
  3. ^ Reiners, A.; Basri, G. (March 2009). "On the magnetic topology of partially and fully convective stars". Astronomy and Astrophysics. 496 (3): 787–790. arXiv:0901.1659. Bibcode:2009A&A...496..787R. doi:10.1051/0004-6361:200811450.
  4. ^ d'Antona, F.; Montalbán, J. (2003). "Efficiency of convection and Pre-Main Sequence lithium depletion". Astronomy and Astrophysics. 212: 203. arXiv:astro-ph/0309348. Bibcode:2003A&A...412..213D. doi:10.1051/0004-6361:20031410.
  5. ^ Lebzelter, T.; Lederer, M. T.; Cristallo, S.; Hinkle, K. H.; Straniero, O.; Aringer, B. (2008). "AGB stars of the intermediate-age LMC cluster NGC 1846". Astronomy and Astrophysics. 486 (2): 511. arXiv:0805.3242. Bibcode:2008A&A...486..511L. doi:10.1051/0004-6361:200809363.

Further reading

  • Hansen, C. J.; Kawaler, S. D. & Trimble, V. (2004). Stellar Interiors. Springer. ISBN 0-387-20089-4.
  • Zeilik, M.; Gregory, S. A. (1998). Introductory Astronomy and Astrophysics. Brooks Cole. ISBN 978-0-03-006228-5.

External links

B-type main-sequence star

A B-type main-sequence star (B V) is a main-sequence (hydrogen-burning) star of spectral type B and luminosity class V. These stars have from 2 to 16 times the mass of the Sun and surface temperatures between 10,000 and 30,000 K. B-type stars are extremely luminous and blue. Their spectra have neutral helium, which are most prominent at the B2 subclass, and moderate hydrogen lines. Examples include Regulus and Algol A.This class of stars was introduced with the Harvard sequence of stellar spectra and published in the Revised Harvard photometry catalogue. The definition of type B-type stars was the presence of non-ionized helium lines with the absence of singly ionized helium in the blue-violet portion of the spectrum. All of the spectral classes, including the B type, were subdivided with a numerical suffix that indicated the degree to which they approached the next classification. Thus B2 is 1/5 of the way from type B (or B0) to type A.Later, however, more refined spectra showed lines of ionized helium for stars of type B0. Likewise, A0 stars also show weak lines of non-ionized helium. Subsequent catalogues of stellar spectra classified the stars based on the strengths of absorption lines at specific frequencies, or by comparing the strengths of different lines. Thus, in the MK Classification system, the spectral class B0 has the line at wavelength 439 nm being stronger than the line at 420 nm. The Balmer series of hydrogen lines grows stronger through the B class, then peak at type A2. The lines of ionized silicon are used to determine the sub-class of the B-type stars, while magnesium lines are used to distinguish between the temperature classes.Type-B stars don't have a corona and lack a convection zone in their outer atmosphere. They have a higher mass loss rate than smaller stars such as the Sun, and their stellar wind has velocities of about 3,000 km/s. The energy generation in main-sequence B-type stars comes from the CNO cycle of thermonuclear fusion. Because the CNO cycle is very temperature sensitive, the energy generation is heavily concentrated at the center of the star, which results in a convection zone about the core. This results in a steady mixing of the hydrogen fuel with the helium byproduct of the nuclear fusion. Many B-type stars have a rapid rate of rotation, with an equatorial rotation velocity of about 200 km/s.

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.

Convective overshoot

Convective overshoot is a phenomenon of convection carrying material beyond an unstable region of the atmosphere into a stratified, stable region. Overshoot is caused by the momentum of the convecting material, which carries the material beyond the unstable region.


A dredge-up is a period in the evolution of a star where a surface convection zone extends down to the layers where material has undergone nuclear fusion. As a result, the fusion products are mixed into the outer layers of the stellar atmosphere where they can appear in the spectrum of the star.

The first dredge-up occurs when a main-sequence star enters the red-giant branch. As a result of the convective mixing, the outer atmosphere will display the spectral signature of hydrogen fusion: the 12C/13C and C/N ratios are lowered, and the surface abundances of lithium and beryllium may be reduced.

The second dredge-up occurs in stars with 4–8 solar masses. When helium fusion comes to an end at the core, convection mixes the products of the CNO cycle. This second dredge-up results in an increase in the surface abundance of 4He and 14N, whereas the amount of 12C and 16O decreases.The third dredge-up occurs after a star enters the asymptotic giant branch and a flash occurs along a helium-burning shell. This dredge-up causes helium, carbon and the s-process products to be brought to the surface. The result is an increase in the abundance of carbon relative to oxygen, which can create a carbon star.The names of the dredge-ups are set by the evolutionary and structural state of the star in which each occurs, not by the sequence experienced by the star. As a result, lower-mass stars experience the first and third dredge-ups in their evolution but not the second.


Helioseismology, a term coined by Douglas Gough, is the study of the structure and dynamics of the Sun through its oscillations. These are principally caused by sound waves that are continuously driven and damped by convection near the Sun's surface. It is similar to geoseismology, or asteroseismology (also coined by Gough), which are respectively the studies of the Earth or stars through their oscillations. While the Sun's oscillations were first detected in the early 1960s, it was only in the mid-1970s that it was realised that the oscillations propagated throughout the Sun and could allow scientists to study the Sun's deep interior. The modern field is separated into global helioseismology, which studies the Sun's resonant modes, and local helioseismology, which studies all the waves propagating at the Sun's surface.Helioseismology has contributed to a number of scientific breakthroughs. The most notable was to show the predicted neutrino flux from the Sun could not be caused by flaws in stellar models and must instead be a problem of particle physics. The so-called solar neutrino problem was ultimately resolved by neutrino oscillations.

The experimental discovery of neutrino oscillations was recognized by the 2015 Nobel Prize for Physics.

Helioseismology also allowed accurate measurements of the quadrupole (and higher-order) moments of the Sun's gravitational potential, which are consistent with general relativity. The first helioseismic calculations of the Sun's internal rotation profile showed a rough separation into a rigidly-rotating core and differentially-rotating envelope. The boundary layer is now known as the tachocline and is thought to be a key component for the solar dynamo. Although it roughly coincides with the base of the solar convection zone—also inferred through helioseismology—it is conceptually a distinct entity.

Helioseismology benefits most from continuous monitoring of the Sun, which began first with uninterrupted observations from near the South Pole over the southern summer. In addition, observations over multiple solar cycles have allowed helioseismologists to study changes in the Sun's structure over decades. These studies are made possible by global telescope networks like the Global Oscillations Network Group (GONG) and the Birmingham Solar Oscillations Network (BiSON), which have been operating for over 20 years.

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.

Luyten's Star

Luyten's Star (GJ 273) is a red dwarf in the constellation Canis Minor located at a distance of approximately 12.36 light-years (3.79 parsecs) from the Sun. It has a visual magnitude of 9.9, making it too faint to be viewed with the unaided eye. It is named after Willem Jacob Luyten, who, in collaboration with Edwin G. Ebbighausen, first determined its high proper motion in 1935.This star is approximately a quarter the mass of the Sun and has 35% of the Sun's radius. Luyten's Star is at the maximum mass at which a red dwarf can be fully convective, which means that most if not all of the star forms an extended convection zone. It has a stellar classification of M3.5V, with the V luminosity class indicating this is a main-sequence star that is generating energy through the thermonuclear fusion of hydrogen at its core. The projected rotation rate of this star is too low to be measured, but is no greater than 1 km/s. Measurements of periodic variation in surface activity suggest a leisurely rotation period of roughly 116 days (which would give a velocity of ~0.15 km/s). The effective temperature of the star's outer envelope is a relatively cool 3,150 K, giving the star the characteristic red-orange hue of an M-type star.At present, Luyten's Star is moving away from the Solar System. The closest approach occurred about 13,000 years ago when it came within 3.67 parsecs. The star is currently located 1.2 light years distant from Procyon, and the latter would appear as a visual magnitude −4.5 star in the night sky of one of the planets orbiting Luyten's Star. The closest encounter between the two stars occurred about 600 years ago when Luyten's Star was at its minimal distance of about 1.12 ly from Procyon. The space velocity components of Luyten's Star are U = +16, V = −66 and W = −17 km/s.

Magnetic Prandtl number

The Magnetic Prandtl number (Prm) is a dimensionless quantity occurring in magnetohydrodynamics which approximates the ratio of momentum diffusivity (viscosity) and magnetic diffusivity. It is defined as:


At the base of the Sun's convection zone the Magnetic Prandtl number is approximately 10−2, and in the interiors of planets and in liquid-metal laboratory dynamos is approximately 10−5.


The term magnetogram has two meanings, used separately in the contexts of magnetic fields of the Sun and the Earth.

In the context of the magnetic field of the Sun, the term magnetogram refers to a pictorial representation of the spatial variations in strength of the solar magnetic field. Magnetograms are often produced by exploiting the Zeeman effect (or, in some cases, the Hanle effect), which George Ellery Hale employed in the first demonstration that sunspots were magnetic in origin, in 1908. Solar magnetograms are produced by suitably instrumented telescopes referred to as magnetographs. Some magnetographs can only measure the component of the magnetic field along the line of sight from the observer to the source (the field's "longitudinal" component). One example of such a "line-of-sight" or "longitudinal" magnetograph is the Michelson Doppler Imager (MDI), a scientific instrument that takes magnetograms of the Sun in order to measure velocity and magnetic fields in the Sun's photosphere to learn about the convection zone and about the magnetic fields which control the structure of the solar corona. A vector magnetograph also measures the component of the magnetic field perpendicular to the line of sight (the field's "transverse" component), from which all three components of the magnetic field vector can be deduced. Two examples include the National Solar Observatory's SOLIS instrument and the Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager aboard NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory satellite.

In the context of geophysics, a magnetogram is a measurement of temporal variation the local strength and direction of the geomagnetic field. Such magnetograms have existed since Victorian times, and the British Geological Survey has preserved records from the 1850s, showing the effects of the 1859 Carrington Event, the worst magnetic storm known to have hit Earth.

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.

Radiation zone

A radiation zone, or radiative region is a layer of a star's interior where energy is primarily transported toward the exterior by means of radiative diffusion and thermal conduction, rather than by convection. Energy travels through the radiation zone in the form of electromagnetic radiation as photons.

Matter in a radiation zone is so dense that photons can travel only a short distance before they are absorbed or scattered by another particle, gradually shifting to longer wavelength as they do so. For this reason, it takes an average of 171,000 years for gamma rays from the core of the Sun to leave the radiation zone. Over this range, the temperature of the plasma drops from 15 million K near the core down to 1.5 million K at the base of the convection zone.

Solar core

The core of the Sun is considered to extend from the center to about 0.2 to 0.25 of

solar radius. It is the hottest part of the Sun and of the Solar System. It has a density of 150 g/cm3 (150 times the density of liquid water) at the center, and a temperature of 15 million kelvins (15 million degrees Celsius, 27 million degrees Fahrenheit). The core is made of hot, dense plasma (ions and electrons), at a pressure estimated at 265 billion bar (3.84 trillion psi or 26.5 petapascals (PPa)) at the center. Due to fusion, the composition of the solar plasma drops from 68-70% hydrogen by mass at the outer core, to 33% hydrogen at the core/Sun center.

The core inside 0.20 of the solar radius contains 34% of the Sun's mass, but only 3.4% of the Sun's volume. Inside 0.24 solar radius, the core generates 99% of the fusion power of the Sun. There are two distinct reactions in which four hydrogen nuclei may eventually result in one helium nucleus: the proton-proton chain reaction – which is responsible for most of the Sun's released energy – and the CNO cycle.

Solar dynamo

The solar dynamo is the physical process that generates the Sun's magnetic field. A dynamo, essentially a naturally occurring electric generator in the Sun's interior, produces electric currents and a magnetic field, following the laws of Ampère, Faraday and Ohm, as well as the laws of hydrodynamics, which together form the laws of magnetohydrodynamics. The detailed mechanism of the solar dynamo is not known and is the subject of current research.

Standard solar model

The standard solar model (SSM) is a mathematical treatment of the Sun as a spherical ball of gas (in varying states of ionisation, with the hydrogen in the deep interior being a completely ionised plasma). This model, technically the spherically symmetric quasi-static model of a star, has stellar structure described by several differential equations derived from basic physical principles. The model is constrained by boundary conditions, namely the luminosity, radius, age and composition of the Sun, which are well determined. The age of the Sun cannot be measured directly; one way to estimate it is from the age of the oldest meteorites, and models of the evolution of the Solar System. The composition in the photosphere of the modern-day Sun, by mass, is 74.9% hydrogen and 23.8% helium. All heavier elements, called metals in astronomy, account for less than 2 percent of the mass. The SSM is used to test the validity of stellar evolution theory. In fact, the only way to determine the two free parameters of the stellar evolution model, the helium abundance and the mixing length parameter (used to model convection in the Sun), are to adjust the SSM to "fit" the observed Sun.

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.


The tachocline is the transition region of Stars of more than 0.3 Solar masses, between the radiative interior and the differentially rotating outer convective zone. It is in the outer third of the Sun (by radius). This causes the region to have a very large shear as the rotation rate changes very rapidly. The convective exterior rotates as a normal fluid with differential rotation with the poles rotating slowly and the equator rotating quickly. The radiative interior exhibits solid-body rotation, possibly due to a fossil field. The rotation rate through the interior is roughly equal to the rotation rate at mid-latitudes, i.e. in-between the rate at the slow poles and the fast equator. Recent results from helioseismology indicate that the tachocline is located at a radius of at most 0.70 times the Solar radius (measured from the core, i.e., the surface is at 1 solar radius), with a thickness of 0.04 times the solar radius. This would mean the area has a very large shear profile that is one way that large scale magnetic fields can be formed.

The geometry and width of the tachocline are thought to play an important role in models of the stellar dynamos by winding up the weaker poloidal field to create a much stronger toroidal field. Recent radio observations of cooler stars and brown dwarfs, which do not have a radiative core and only have a convective zone, demonstrate that they maintain large-scale, solar-strength magnetic fields and display solar-like activity despite the absence of tachoclines. This suggests that the convective zone alone may be responsible for the function of the solar dynamo.The term tachocline was coined in a paper by Edward Spiegel and Jean-Paul Zahn in 1992 by analogy to the oceanic thermocline.

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.

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