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The Life and Death of Stars

Gain a better understanding of these spectacular celestial bodies in this enthralling course which features dazzling imagery from Hubble, informative graphics, and animations.
The Life and Death of Stars is rated 4.2 out of 5 by 70.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enjoyed it very much I've always had an amateur interest in astrophysics and geology, even though neither was even close to what I studied in college and practiced professionally. In my recent retirement, I have decided to explore these areas. This course was perfect for my interest in how stars are born and die. I've enjoyed photos from the Hubble telescope (and that's a course that is on the way to me right now) and this course was well worth the 12 hours it took to watch the lectures. Dr. Stassun is an excellent lecturer, and his lectures were presented at just the right level for an amateur exploring this topic. I look forward to exploring other courses in this area, and if Dr. Stassun offers any future courses, I will happily consider them. Thank you!
Date published: 2024-02-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course - very informative I enjoyed this course very much. It was very informative. I learned a lot about stars life and death. The professor is great at explaining how stars live and diie.
Date published: 2023-11-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very interesting topic - it would be great if he could do a follow-up course on neutron stars and active galactic nuclei! I particularly liked he used material from his own research team and other visualisations from his colleagues. He also provided a very appreciated poetic depth to some of his descriptions. Highly recommended!
Date published: 2023-10-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best Great Courses astronomy classes! First, this course is very interesting. Although it is about stars, something we think we know about from other astronomy classes, Professor Stassun has made it all sound new and exciting. Part of the reason is that when others talk about our solar system, they assume we understand our host star. The second surprising benefit is that Professor Stassun is a science geek with a sense of humility and a way with words (especially in lectures 23 and 24). This course is one I will relisten to in the future.
Date published: 2022-06-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thorough explanations with great visuals I found this an excellent review of the vast field of knowledge about the life of stars. The images, animations and videos were well used and helpful. I found the anthropomorphizing a bit off-putting at first (I was a science teacher) but it was helpful to integrate the topics and delivered with great charm!
Date published: 2022-03-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent lecturer This is the first of four Great Courses I bought recently. I've listened to and watched over 150 of them - mostly History. I can honestly say this is up there with the best of them. Mr Stassun is very clear and concise in his descriptions of what can be at times, a difficult subject. He also has a very pleasant voice and appearance which I always find important if you're watching someone for 12 hours or more. There were plenty of useful diagrams and animations which help enormously. Especially the Herzsprung - Russell diagram. The pacing is perfect and his enthusiasm is infectious. I have to say I enjoyed this even more than 'Understanding the Universe' set of lectures - which had a clever and engaging but extremely nerdy and goofy professor. It helps to have a bit of prior knowledge on the subject of stars as some of the episodes get quite heavy. This set was worth every penny (Even though it was bought in the November sale). Highly recommended.
Date published: 2022-01-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from An Introduction to the Stars Make no mistake this is a demanding course. it is technical and highly detailed, rigorously examining the details of the topic. It demands a good deal of effort to keep going. However, while it is well illustrated, the lecturer does not explain the pictures well at all. A frame consisting of a number, sometimes a large number, of white blobs are flashed on and off with no attempt to identify what he is talking about. The use of a pointer or clear marker on the screen would be invaluable. We need time to absorb complex information ! At the end of the day this was an informative and educational course at a high level but not for the dillitante or faint hearted.
Date published: 2021-10-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Big Picture Guaranteed to generate an interest, appreciation and understanding in our galaxy and stars in general.
Date published: 2021-08-26
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No other large-scale object in the universe is as fundamental as a star. Stars are a central topic of astronomy, and because the study of stars encompasses key concepts in nuclear physics, electromagnetism, chemistry, and other disciplines, it is an ideal introduction to how we understand the universe at all scales. The Life and Death of Stars introduces you to this spectacular story in 24 beautifully illustrated lectures that lead you through the essential ideas of astrophysics-the science of stars. Your guide is Professor Keivan G. Stassun of Vanderbilt University, who provides lively, eloquent, and authoritative explanations at a level suitable for science novices as well as for those who already know their way around the starry sky.


Keivan G. Stassun

Like us, stars are born, live their lives, and then die. Like us, the lives and deaths of stars represent a circle of life, the ashes of dead stars becoming the raw material for new generations and their systems of planets.


University of Wisconsin, Madison
Dr. Keivan G. Stassun is Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Vanderbilt University. He earned his Ph.D. in Astronomy as a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He was a postdoctoral research fellow with the NASA Hubble Space Telescope Program before joining the faculty at Vanderbilt. Professor Stassun's research on the birth of stars, eclipsing binary stars, exoplanetary systems, and the sun has appeared in the prestigious research journal Nature, has been featured on NPR's Earth & Sky, and has been published in more than 100 peer-reviewed journal articles. He also serves as host for Tennessee Explorers, a television show highlighting the work of scientists and engineers to inspire the next generation of scientific explorers. Professor Stassun is a recipient of the prestigious CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation and a Cottrell Scholar Award for excellence in research and university teaching from the Research Corporation for Science Advancement. In 2013, he was named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Dr. Stassun is also a national leader in initiatives to increase the number of underrepresented minorities earning doctoral degrees in science and engineering and has served as an expert witness to Congress in its review of approaches for increasing American competitiveness in these fields.

By This Professor

The Life and Death of Stars
The Life and Death of Stars


Why the Stellar Life Cycle Matters

01: Why the Stellar Life Cycle Matters

View the life cycle of a star in its broadest context, seeing how stars serve as agents of alchemy, transforming the simplest element-hydrogen-into the panoply of heavier elements that compose life and all other material objects in the universe.

32 min
The Stars' Information Messenger

02: The Stars' Information Messenger

Discover that there is much more to light than what we can see with our eyes. Investigate the properties of light and the electromagnetic spectrum, which extends from gamma rays to radio waves. Then learn how astronomers read a star's spectrum to determine the star's elemental composition.

29 min
Measuring the Stars with Light

03: Measuring the Stars with Light

Uncover more information encoded in starlight, learning how color and patterns of emission and absorption reveal the surface temperature of a star and its motion relative to Earth. Examine the scientific laws that explain stellar spectra, and find out how stellar distances are measured.

31 min
Stellar Nurseries

04: Stellar Nurseries

Probe the places where stars begin their lives: stellar nurseries. Use what you've learned about light to interpret the incredible colors and sculpted shapes in glowing clouds of gas and dust. See how star death leads to a new generation of stars. Close with a virtual fly-through of the stellar nursery in the Orion Nebula.

28 min
Gravitational Collapse and Protostars

05: Gravitational Collapse and Protostars

Chart the stages of star birth in stunning astronomical images. From Bok globules and Herbig-Haro objects to protoplanetary disks, these phases develop as gravity brings together material within denser regions of a stellar nursery. Clumps of matter eventually collapse into stars, which often include surrounding planetary systems.

31 min
The Dynamics of Star Formation

06: The Dynamics of Star Formation

Hundreds of stars can form inside a single cloud of collapsing gas and dust. Zoom in on the intricate details of this process. First, watch a computer simulation of star formation. Then, see how double, triple, and other gravitationally bound combinations of stars arise.

27 min
Solar Systems in the Making

07: Solar Systems in the Making

Follow the formation of newborn planets as they jockey for position close to their parent stars. Computer simulations show how some planets can be ejected out of their solar systems. Such models suggest that our sun and its planetary system might have looked markedly different in the past than it does now.

30 min
Telescopes-Our Eyes on the Stars

08: Telescopes-Our Eyes on the Stars

Focus on the instruments that observe and measure stars: telescopes. Investigate the major types and the detectors they use to extract the maximum amount of information from starlight. Telescopes on Earth and in space can survey the entire range of the electromagnetic spectrum.

30 min
Mass-The DNA of Stars

09: Mass-The DNA of Stars

Learn how mass is like a star's DNA, as it determines all of a star's physical characteristics. Astronomers can measure a star's mass by observing another star in orbit around it. Explore the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram, which shows that stars of different masses fall into well-defined classes.

31 min
Eclipses of Stars-Truth in the Shadows

10: Eclipses of Stars-Truth in the Shadows

Investigate the remarkable usefulness of eclipses. When our moon passes in front of a star or one star eclipses another, astronomers can gather a treasure trove of data, such as stellar diameters. Eclipses also allow astronomers to identify planets orbiting other stars.

29 min
Stellar Families

11: Stellar Families

Survey the two major types of star clusters. Open clusters typically form within the disk of a galaxy and represent recent generations of stars, enriched in heavier elements. By contrast, globular clusters form a halo around the centers of galaxies and are some of the most ancient stars in the universe.

30 min
A Portrait of Our Star, the Sun

12: A Portrait of Our Star, the Sun

Explore the nearest star, the sun, in an imaginary voyage through its fiery photosphere down to the center. Discover the sun's rich inner structure, with strata ranging from the extremely hot and dense core-denser than solid lead-to the more rarefied outer layers.

30 min
E = mc2-Energy for a Star's Life

13: E = mc2-Energy for a Star's Life

Probe the physics of nuclear fusion, which is the process that powers stars by turning mass into energy, according to Einstein's famous equation. Then examine two lines of evidence that show what's happening inside the sun, proving that nuclear reactions must indeed be taking place.

30 min
Stars in Middle Age

14: Stars in Middle Age

Delve deeper into the lessons of the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram, introduced in Lecture 9. One of its most important features is the main sequence curve, along which most stars are found for most of their lives. Focus on the nuclear reactions occurring inside stars during this stable period.

30 min
Stellar Death

15: Stellar Death

Stars like the sun end as white dwarfs, surrounded by an envelope of expelled material called a planetary nebula. Explore the complicated and beautiful structure of these dying outbursts. Then investigate the spectacular end of the most massive stars, which explode as supernovae, forging the elements of life in their violent demise.

32 min
Stellar Corpses-Diamonds in the Sky

16: Stellar Corpses-Diamonds in the Sky

Analyze three major types of stellar remains. Low mass stars like the sun leave behind white dwarfs, composed of carbon in a compact diamond-like state. Heavier stars collapse into super-dense neutron stars. And stars weighing more than 20 solar masses end as bizarre black holes.

30 min
Dying Breaths-Cepheids and Supernovae

17: Dying Breaths-Cepheids and Supernovae

Stars vary in brightness during their final phases. Study two phenomena that allow astronomers to measure distances with great accuracy across vast reaches of space: Cepheid variable stars and white dwarf supernovae. Zoom in on the processes that produce these valuable cosmic yardsticks.

29 min
Supernova Remnants and Galactic Geysers

18: Supernova Remnants and Galactic Geysers

Explore amazing images of the remnants of supernova explosions, charting how these cosmic catastrophes unfold as if in slow motion. Expanding clouds of supernova debris can trigger new star formation nearby and even carve enormous chimney-like structures in a galaxy.

28 min
Stillborn Stars

19: Stillborn Stars

Follow the search for brown dwarfs-objects that are larger than planets but too small to ignite stellar fires. Hear about Professor Stassun's work that identified the mass of these elusive objects, showing the crucial role of magnetism in setting the basic properties of all stars.

29 min
The Dark Mystery of the First Stars

20: The Dark Mystery of the First Stars

Join the hunt for the first stars in the universe, focusing on the nearby "Methuselah" star. Explore evidence that the earliest stars were giants, even by stellar standards. They may even have included mammoth dark stars composed of mysterious dark matter.

29 min
Stars as Magnets

21: Stars as Magnets

Because stars spin like dynamos, they generate magnetic fields-a phenomenon that explains many features of stars. See how the slowing rate of rotation of stars like the sun allows astronomers to infer their ages. Also investigate the clock-like magnetic pulses of pulsars, which were originally thought to be signals from extraterrestrials.

29 min
Solar Storms-The Perils of Life with a Star

22: Solar Storms-The Perils of Life with a Star

The sun and stars produce more than just light and heat. Their periodic blasts of charged particles constitute space weather. Examine this phenomenon-from beautiful aurorae to damaging bursts of high-energy particles that disrupt electronics, the climate, and even life.

29 min
The Stellar Recipe of Life

23: The Stellar Recipe of Life

Survey the periodic table of elements, focusing on the elements that are vital to life. From carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen to phosphorous, copper, and zinc, virtually every constituent of life was forged in a star during some phase of its life cycle.

30 min
A Tale of Two Stars

24: A Tale of Two Stars

Close your introduction to stellar evolution by contrasting the life cycles of two markedly different stars: one like our sun and another 10 times more massive. Professor Stassun compares their histories to milestones in the lives of humans, bringing a personal dimension to the science of stars.

32 min