Saturday, October 8, 2016

Life of a star

Of course our most important 'star', that nearest to us is the Sun. It seemed obvious that our life-giving Sun needed inclusion in the story, which then had me thinking about the whole process of how stars are created and meet their demise - ultimately! I had never considered astronomy as a possible career, or even as a hobby, but my PhD involving exploration into the seasonal cycles for the Southern Hemisphere brought me a little closer to the bigger picture of the Universe - I admit, derived from a spiritual quest rather than a scientific adventure - like that of the Red Dwarf team! Many years ago, while looking for inspiration for another (yet to be finished) quilt, I had been given a large, coffee-table book by a friend called "Philip's Atlas of the Universe" by Sir Patrick Moore, touted as "the best introduction to astronomy" by the Journal of the British Astronomical Association. I first turned to it to look for colour and possible ways to use the many hand-dyed fabrics I have in my collection, which are awash with vermilions and pinks, greens and yellows all merging into one another - fabrics which have not yet found a place to manifest their beautiful potential. It's amazing how hand-dyeing can result in the photos taken  a starburst.  I then found page 174-5, entitled "The Lives of the Stars" (no, it was not a Women's Weekly), with a neat summary of the whole process, from birth to death, complete with images. the latter gave me all sorts of licence to play around with colours, and I had already started a small collection of circle templates to cut from - again using the fusion technique. So I was away, many small planets came to life in front of me. Later I would choose which ones would be used and where positioned.

This is my summary of a star's life, as gleaned from the Philip's Atlas (2003, London). Starting with a collapsing cloud of nebula material, stars begin to form with the rising temperatures, revealing a cluster as the associated gases are blown away. The cluster is gradually disrupted and becomes a loose stellar association. Stars with high mass are of the solar type, remaining for a very long period until they start running out of hydrogen ‘fuel’, causing them to expand and become a ‘red giant’ (not dwarf!). Following the gradual loss of the outer layers, resulting in the formation of a planetary nebula, the core of the original star is left as a white dwarf that continues to glow until the last of its heat is lost. It then becomes a cold, dead, black (not red!) dwarf. A more massive star may explode as a supernova at the ‘red giant’ stage, possibly ending as a 'neutron star' or 'pulsar'; if it is so dense that light cannot escape from it, it may produce a black hole. Many of these stages of star formation are included in Jan's quilt.

In reading about the various stages and types of stars in my Philip’s Atlas, showing images neatly numbered from one to fourteen, I am drawn to some of the small leftover scraps showing irresistible potential to represent another ‘stage’, maybe another galaxy. They are just too interesting to ignore. When all these stages in the life of a star have been allocated a virtual position in the ‘outer space’ of the background, (nothing is fully fixed in place yet) I go back to what seemed to be most important in Jan’s love of stars and galaxies, the cluster known as the Pleiades. I have been searching symbols on the internet, but so far the means for its representation has eluded me, which is becoming a source of frustration and also a tantalising challenge. I also need to consider how this cluster may be seen from the Southern Hemisphere, when so much of recorded knowledge emerges from a Northern Hemispheric point of view. Maybe there is no difference?

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