• nebula

Stars form from large clouds of dust and gas particles (nebulae) that are drawn together by gravitational forces over millions of years. As the particles get closer the temperature and pressure becomes so large that nuclear fusion of hydrogen nuclei to helium nuclei occurs.  This releases enormous amounts of energy in the form of heat and light.


• star (main sequence)

Fusion produces forces that make the star expand outwards, but gravitational force is always pulling the particles within the star inwards. When these two opposing forces become balanced a star is stable and called a main sequence star. It should stay this way for millions of years, at a constant size and temperature.


• red giant

Eventually hydrogen fusion stops as the star runs out of fuel. Gravitational force is now bigger than the outward fusion force which causes the star to collapse inwards and compress. This causes it to heat up to even higher temperatures so that fusion of helium nuclei begins. The increased power output causes the star to expand greatly. The surface area is so large that it is cooler than before, so its colour changes to red and the star is called a red giant.


• white dwarf

Eventually fusion stops when the star runs out of helium nuclei and the gravitational force causes the star to collapse inwards and compress again. This heats it up so it changes colour to emit white light. The star is squashed so greatly by the gravitational force to become a small and very dense white dwarf. (They are so dense that a teaspoon full would weigh more than a cruise liner). A white dwarf eventually cools down and change colour as it does so, eventually becoming black.