Saturday, July 10, 2021

What is an Hypergiant?

Hypergiant (luminosity class 0 or Ia+) is a very rare type of star that has an extremely high luminosity, mass, size and mass loss because of its extreme stellar winds. The term hypergiant is defined as luminosity class 0 (zero) in the MKK system.

However, this is rarely seen in the literature or in published spectral classifications, except for specific well-defined groups such as the yellow hypergiants, RSG (red supergiants), or blue B(e) supergiants with emission spectra.

More commonly, hypergiants are classed as Ia-0 or Ia+, but red supergiants are rarely assigned these spectral classifications. Astronomers are interested in these stars because they relate to understanding stellar evolution, especially with star formation, stability, and their expected demise as supernovae.

Stars with an initial mass above about 25 M☉ quickly move away from the main sequence and increase somewhat in luminosity to become blue supergiants. They cool and enlarge at approximately constant luminosity to become a red supergiant, then contract and increase in temperature as the outer layers are blown away.


They may “bounce” backwards and forwards executing one or more “blue loops”, still at a fairly steady luminosity, until they explode as a supernova or completely shed their outer layers to become a Wolf–Rayet star. Stars with an initial mass above about 40 M☉ are simply too luminous to develop a stable extended atmosphere and so they never cool sufficiently to become red supergiants.

The most massive stars, especially rapidly rotating stars with enhanced convection and mixing, may skip these steps and move directly to the Wolf–Rayet stage.

As the luminosity of stars increases greatly with mass, the luminosity of hypergiants often lies very close to the Eddington limit, which is the luminosity at which the radiation pressure expanding the star outward equals the force of the star’s gravity collapsing the star inward.

This means that the radiative flux passing through the photosphere of a hypergiant may be nearly strong enough to lift off the photosphere. Above the Eddington limit, the star would generate so much radiation that parts of its outer layers would be thrown off in massive outbursts; this would effectively restrict the star from shining at higher luminosities for longer periods.

A good candidate for hosting a continuum-driven wind is Eta Carinae, one of the most massive stars ever observed.

Some luminous blue variables are classified as hypergiants, during at least part of their cycle of variation:

• Eta Carinae, inside the Carina Nebula

• P Cygni, in the northern constellation of Cygnus.

• S Doradus, in the Large Magellanic Cloud, in the southern constellation of Dorado.

• The Pistol Star, near the center of the Milky Way, in the constellation of Sagittarius.

• V4029 Sagittarii

• V905 Scorpii

• HD 6884, (R40 in SMC)

• HD 269700, (R116 in the LMC)

• LBV 1806-20 in the 1806-20 cluster on the other side of the Milky Way.

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