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Stars live for millions or billions of years—far longer than a human lifespan. So how do we know so much about how stars live and die? We know because we have observed stars and nebulae (clouds of gas and dust) with distinct characteristics (colors, sizes, and shapes). Astronomers use physics to understand what is happening within each type of object. They can then sequence the objects into a life cycle of stars from birth to death. New stars eventually form from gas and dust left behind by previous generations of stars.
Stars evolve differently depending on how massive they are when they form. In this interactive, we will explore the life cycle of stars like our Sun and massive stars that have more than 8 to 10 times the mass of our Sun. Click on CYCLE SCHEMATIC above (in blue) to see an illustration of the two paths. Click on the image thumbnails to see an example of each life stage for the two paths. Read the descriptions to learn how each life stage evolves into another.