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Star Systems and Types of Galaxies

The Formation of the Milky Way Galaxy

By Gilbert Ay-ayen. JrPublished 28 days ago 4 min read

When a high-mass star runs out of fuel in its core, the outer layers collapse inward rapidly, overcoming electron and neutron degeneracy pressure. This triggers a supernova explosion, leaving behind a single point containing most of the star's original mass - a black hole.

The key to understanding black holes lies in the concept of escape velocity. General relativity tells us that massive objects warp spacetime, and the greater the mass, the more pronounced the effect. For an object to escape a gravitational pull, it must reach a certain escape velocity. If an object's mass is compressed into a small enough radius, its escape velocity can exceed the speed of light, meaning even light cannot escape its gravitational pull. This is the defining feature of a black hole - it is so dense that nothing, not even light, can escape its gravity.

The distance from the center of a black hole to the point where the escape velocity equals the speed of light is called the Schwarzschild radius, or the event horizon. Beyond this boundary, spacetime is so warped that light cannot escape.

While we cannot directly observe black holes, we have various indirect methods of detecting their presence. These include observing material accreting around an invisible object, detecting gravitational waves from merging black holes, and measuring the velocities of stars orbiting a massive, unseen object at the center of a galaxy. In fact, there is strong evidence for supermassive black holes at the centers of most large galaxies.

Despite their immense gravitational pull, black holes do not necessarily pose a threat to the entire universe. The vast distances between celestial objects mean that a black hole's influence is limited to its immediate vicinity. Additionally, black holes are predicted to slowly evaporate over an incomprehensibly long time through a process known as Hawking radiation, eventually disappearing entirely.

When a high-mass star runs out of fuel in its core, the outer layers collapse inward rapidly, overcoming electron and neutron degeneracy pressure. This triggers a supernova explosion, leaving behind a black hole - a single point containing most of the star's mass.

Black holes are "black" because their gravitational pull is so strong that even light cannot escape from them. This is due to the concept of escape velocity. Massive objects warp spacetime, and if an object's mass is compressed enough, its escape velocity can exceed the speed of light, trapping even light within it. This is the Schwarzschild radius, the boundary within which an object becomes a black hole.

While we cannot directly see black holes, we have many indirect ways of detecting them. For example, material accreting around an unseen object can emit X-rays, or the motion of nearby stars can reveal the presence of a massive, invisible object - a black hole. Supermassive black holes are even believed to exist at the centers of most large galaxies.

Despite their immense gravity, black holes do not simply swallow up everything in the universe. Their influence is limited to their immediate vicinity, and objects far enough away are unaffected. Moreover, black holes themselves slowly evaporate over an incredibly long timescale due to Hawking radiation. So black holes, though mysterious and powerful, are not an unstoppable force that will consume the cosmos.

The Formation of the Solar System and the Structure of the Sun. We now have a good understanding of how stars and galaxies form, including our own Milky Way galaxy. It's time to focus on our location within this larger structure. If we zoom in on the Orion arm, which is relatively distant from the galactic center, we see an ordinary yellow main sequence star - our sun.

This star is not particularly special, being of average size at one solar mass. However, it is special to us because we live on a planet that orbits this star. The sun formed around 4.6 billion years ago from a cloud of gas and dust that was rich in heavy elements, which had been ejected into space by the explosions of older, more massive stars.

This cloud of material began to spin and flatten into a disk, similar to the way galaxies form. The bulk of the cloud came together at the center, with gravity causing fusion and the formation of the sun. The remaining material in the disk then slowly accumulated into the planets and other objects that make up our solar system.

Over hundreds of thousands of years, the dust and debris collided and stuck together, forming larger and larger objects. The inner rocky planets and the outer gas giants took shape as these planetesimals grew massive enough to become spherical under their own gravity. Remaining debris formed moons, asteroids, comets, and planetary rings.

The solar system has not been completely static since its formation. Objects have been jostled around, such as during the Late Heavy Bombardment event billions of years ago. But overall, the solar system we see today is the product of these processes.

The sun itself is a typical G-type main sequence star, with a hot, dense core and outer layers that include the chromosphere and corona. It has a magnetic field that produces sunspots, prominences, and solar flares, which contribute to the solar wind that extends far beyond the planets.

Compared to the vast scale of the Milky Way, the solar system is tiny. But within it, the sun is absolutely enormous, making up 99.86% of the system's mass. The planets, in their various sizes and compositions, orbit the sun in near-circular paths.

The formation of the solar system, with its complex planets, is quite intuitive when we understand two key astronomical processes - the creation of heavy elements inside stars and their subsequent ejection during supernovas, followed by the accretion of interstellar gas and dust into a protoplanetary disk. This allows us to appreciate that every atom in our bodies, other than hydrogen, was forged inside long-dead stars. We truly are "star stuff", as Carl Sagan so eloquently put it.

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Gilbert Ay-ayen. Jr

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    Gilbert Ay-ayen. JrWritten by Gilbert Ay-ayen. Jr

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