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Interesting but Difficult Introduction to Stelar Astrophysics
on 16 November 2012
Stars are some of the most fascinating objects in the universe. They have exercised an oversize grip on our imagination since the dawn of humanity, and it's not hard to see why: one look at the clear star-sprinkled night sky will leave everyone in awe. Stars have been imbued with all sorts of meaning throughout history: religious, mystical, poetic, and prophetic. One of the major attitude changes happens when we realized that stars are in fact distant suns, and their faint glimmer is the consequence of their incredibly far distance from us. However, this only replaced one mystery with another: how do the Sun and all the other stars keep shining over the incredibly long time frames without changing their overall appearance noticeably. The solution to that puzzle was finally elucidated in the 20th century with the advent of our fuller understanding of microscopic Physics. This explanation - encapsulate in the field of astrophysics - is the basis of modern understanding of stars, and it is the subject matter of this very short introduction.
In order to properly understand star we need to be familiar with all the physical forces - nuclear, weak, electromagnetic and gravitational. We also need a solid understanding of thermodynamics and fluid dynamics. In other words - learning about stars is an excellent way of learning about Physics in general. This book provides an excellent overview of all the physical mechanisms and processes that go into making of a star. The book goes into some detail of the evolution of individual stars. This is a very fascinating topic in its own right, especially when it comes to the later stages of stellar evolution. If stars are massive enough, then their ends can be quite violent resulting in a spectacular explosion known as a supernova. The remnants of such massive stellar endpoints are some of the most exotic objects in the Universe: neutron stars and black holes. These objects would in principle be hard, if not impossible, to observe, but fortunately there is enough of them in the binary stellar systems and in such configurations their existence can be deduced from the effects they have on the companion star and the surrounding matter. Unfortunately, unlike the end stages of the stellar evolution, the origins of stars are still much less well understood, and this is an area of active current theoretical and observational research.
This book is incredibly well written and lucid in its presentation. The author definitely comes across as an expert and authority in the field, and the book presents the best and latest understanding of the stars and their structure. My only issue with this book is that it may be a bit too advanced for the general reader. Many of its explanation and arguments seem very straightforward and reasonable, but in fact rely on the kind of physical intuition that you only develop after having taken a few semesters of college Physics. This is particularly true of the arguments that depend on simple proportionality equations and their manipulations. For us Physicists these sorts of equation manipulations become the second nature, and we tend to forget that most people rarely think along these lines in their everyday lives. If your general Physics background is a bit shaky I would suggest to keep these caveats in mind when reading this book.