The Life and Death of Stars

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Engaging Presentation Yes, it is a non-quantitative overview with a “folksy” style but it is also delightful with wonderful photographs and explanations. I am currently teaching a Cosmology course and plan to borrow some of Dr. Stassun’s stories as a way of helping my own students understand what are complex topics even when presented without much math. Get it, you won’t be sorry!
Date published: 2019-09-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Very Best I have studied more than thirty of the Great Courses. I think that this presentation is the best of all of those courses. The lecturer is very down to earth with his comparisons to the human life cycle. I treasure what I have learnt from Professor Stassun
Date published: 2019-09-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Accessible and fascinating For a layperson like myself, Kieivan Stassun produced perhaps the perfect course, introducing complex material gently but thoroughly. Prof. Stassun is soft-spoken but enthusiastic; his well-designed lectures use metaphor and analogy especially effectively, making memory much easier. So while the course was eye-opening for me, it was also a pleasure to watch and listen to - I felt I was genuinely absorbing the material. I look forward to going over again the huge amount that I learned in 24 lectures, and also to learning more.
Date published: 2019-03-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great lecturer and course content I found Dr. Stassun's lectures on astronomy and the topic of stellar life cycles to be some of the best that I have encountered. They were delivered in a precise, concise, and logically well developed manner. His lectures cleared up a number of concepts that were much less well presented in the textbook and lectures that I encounter in the year sequence of astronomy courses that I took in college.
Date published: 2019-03-16
Rated 1 out of 5 by from A Great Course - For Nine Year Olds Course guides should provide some indication of depth of material and content. Courses for 9 year olds should not be included. The course provides basic material on the sun, solar system and how astronomer's through only information from the light from stars are able to work out distance, mass and other parameters. However, much of the detail has been dumbed down. Some examples follow. In a 24 lecture series on stars I was expecting some information about the nuclear reactions in the sun. All we are told is 4 Hydrogen atoms fuse to form a Helium atom. Why the sun does not explode is the obvious question. No amount of gravity would stop a 2 x10^30 kg thermonuclear bomb exploding. Here is what we are not told. The central kinetic energy of the sun is about 1500eV. The binding energy is about 1.6 MeV per nucleon, so nuclear fusion is not very likely and is only achieved through quantum tunnelling. When two Hydrogen atoms fuse together, 2,2 Helium is formed which decays with a half life of about a billionth of a second, back into Hydrogen. However, due to the weak force, extremely rarely, some of the 2,2 Helium atoms decay into Heavy Hydrogen. It is estimated that the half life of a Hydrogen atom being involved in a fusion reaction in the sun is a billion years. A Deuteron once formed fuses rapidly into 4,2 Helium via several steps. Hydrogen fusing into Helium is not very likely. So that's how the sun works and why it doesn't explode. The course gives no explanation for why the solar system accretes and flattens into a disk (or even that it does). Graphics of Type 1A supernovae are shown with a remnant. They don't have a remnant - they blow themselves to bits. As Planets form and accrete gas and dust, they slow down and move inwards - we are told. We are not told why all the planets that form don't fall into their suns. As the course does have some information it does not score a zero. One out of five is all I can give.
Date published: 2019-03-01
Rated 3 out of 5 by from The content was good, but uneven. Some parts were very basic. I had a hard time with the professors speaking style. He sounds like he is talking to 5th graders. At times it was hard to listen. My wife, who is not very technical, had the same reaction. He keeps using an analogy to human life cycle, which is way too far-fetched to be useful. It adds to the condescending feeling that we wouldn't stay interested if he didn't talk down to us.
Date published: 2019-02-19
Rated 3 out of 5 by from One spindle for FOUR discs. What is that about. On second disc. Love the material and the instructor. Very passionate and very interesting. Great information about star formation and life of stars. I would buy again. But the package used is the pits.
Date published: 2019-02-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Clear and concise. Keeps your attention. Yes, in the first video Dr. Stassun compares a star's life to a human life; however, the rest of the lectures are scientific and educational. The use of math/equations is a perfect balance - it's there when it's needed to further explain a Law or theory, but not so much that it would only appeal to undergrads. (I've read lots of TTC reviews - the use or abstinence of math in lectures is a contentious subject, so fellow reviewers, please don't jump on me because I wasn't a math major. Thanks.) I HIGHLY recommend this course. I've always been fascinated with the sun/stars. This course filled in gaps in my knowledge, and was able to go into details that Alex Filippenko didn't have time for in his legendary Understanding the Universe course.
Date published: 2019-02-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An excellent course. I loved this course. I had long had a number of queries concerning the life cycle of stars that I could never find satisfactory answers to, and this course cleared them all up (well, almost!). Professor Stassun has a gentle and calm delivery style which I found appealing, and his love and enthusiasm for the subject is obvious. As an overview of the subject I think one would be hard pressed to find anything better or more enjoyable.
Date published: 2018-11-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Haven't finished it yet. Will send a full review after I finish the course but so far it is great.
Date published: 2018-09-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Sparks interest in course at a glance. This is an excellent course to recommend and use to help students interested in astronomy.
Date published: 2018-09-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from the Best! I have not finished this course yet but I find that it is the best, most informative series of lectures that I have seen through your program. Professor Stasson is an excellent teacher. Thank you!
Date published: 2018-06-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Easy to understand and comprehensive Astronomy Very pleased with this course. I aspired to be an astronomer as a youth so was familiar with many of the concepts but my knowledge was dated and incomplete. This course laid it all out with excellent graphics and easy to understand explanations. One of the most enjoyable Great Courses.
Date published: 2018-06-17
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Fascinating subject and well taught My one bug bear was how often the camera angel changed. The constant moving from side to side was distracting and got quite annoying. There was no need for such over direction as the professor was engaging and would of been fine behind a desk or a podium. I would of given it 5 stars if this had been the case.
Date published: 2018-06-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brilliant course! I found this course absolutely fascinating. I have read the course transcript so many times that it is falling apart. The professor has a knack of explaining difficult concepts in a way that anyone can understand, without dumbing down the course. I sincerely hope he writes another one for The Great Courses Company!
Date published: 2018-03-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I bought this course recently and am about 1/2 way through. I have taken five other Teaching Company astronomy courses including Professor Filippenko's Introduction to Astronomy. Still, I am learning from this course, and would definitely recommend to to others who want a good course about stars. It is a slower paced course which is fine with me. I do not find the repetition tiresome, but actually very helpful. This is a solid course and am happy to be studying it.
Date published: 2017-12-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exciting! Dr. Stassun is not like the other lecturers that rapidly repeat a string of hard-to-understand scientific facts. He actually teaches. He pauses and makes good use of repetition. If you don't have much science knowledge, you could probably understand most of this course. I suspect that Dr. Stassun knows that science is difficult for many of us and mercifully kept us in mind as his target audience. If your knowledge of astronomy is already advanced, you will not like this course. (You might enjoy the articles that are on a certain famous free online encyclopedia.) My only complaint, similar to others, is not the comparison of star life stages to human life stages per se, but that it's a bit overdone, and I found myself being distracted and even confused by it. But that complaint describes a very small percentage of the presentation. For me this was a great purchase. My thanks to both Dr. Stassun and Great Courses (Teaching Company).
Date published: 2017-11-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from GOOD for teaching where periodic table created! bought it for me as the full monte on astronomy was purchased for 16 yr old grandson but now that I finished viewing the DVD will be passed to the 14 yr old grandson who evidences an interest in Chemistry. I remember asking the chem teacher in high school, decades ago as I always did, & still do, But how did the chemicals get made in the first place. His little bro worked at Los Alamos so he should have known. This prof explains in each lesson why we are as Sagan said, Star Stuff.
Date published: 2017-11-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent lectures This series of lectures is clear, interesting and very well presented. I hope this lecturer will present another astronomy course soon!!
Date published: 2017-11-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Life and Death of Stars This was a beautiful series of lectures which I thoroughly enjoyed. Very good graphics aswell. I am new to astronomy and this course has encouraged me to find out more. Good value for money.
Date published: 2017-10-28
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Life and Death of Stars What a waste of money. This is worst than a chick flick. The superlatives, adjectives and other similarities take up half to the talk. I wanted data and some good physics but got nothing but hype. Come on Great Courses..... This is not what we want from you course. We are science people that want the data and the math that take us to the next level. This has only about 20% of what I was hoping to get from your course. If this keeps up I will watch the Science Chanel. They far out did you on this matter
Date published: 2017-08-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great product, super service.... As usual for The Great Courses!!
Date published: 2017-07-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Instructive and inspiring I have little scientific background, so I watched this over a period of time, sometimes repeating a lecture or a part of a lecture, but Professor Stassun is so clear and thoughtful in his presentation, that I both enjoyed and learned from this Great Course.
Date published: 2017-07-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding Course The course had a wealth of interesting content presented in an understandable way. Professor was enthusiastic and knowlegeable. I will probably review parts of these lessons as the subject matter comes up in my personal or professional life.
Date published: 2017-06-04
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Very sub-standard Very slow paced and bloated with cutesy tangents, this is perhaps a course for grade schoolers. Importantly, what cannot be forgiven is the imprecise used of language resulting in generalizations that are both misleading and incorrect. The most hilarious nonsense is this person's attempt to anthropomorphize the stellar life cycle. Not even close to the expected standard of The Great Courses and should be pulled from the portfolio.
Date published: 2017-05-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great for Beginners If you have little to no knowledge of star formation or stellar death processes, this is a great course especially considering the cost relative to other Great Course lectures, but if you understand these topics I would not bother with this course. It was a great review of concepts for me, but it did not include very extensive information on the topics covered. The instructor used many interesting computer simulations and images that made concepts that are difficult to visualize more easy to digest. I also loved the use of well-known objects as examples for multiple star systems, planetary nebulae, supernova remnants, etc. I was disappointed by the lack of math and actual physics in this course, especially considering the professor’s impressive list of accomplishments. This is not a college level course. It more closely resembles an introduction or remedial class. This course did not cover much more than Alex Filippenko did in the “Understanding the Universe” lectures. The Professor’s instruction bothered me. This course is a bit slow in the beginning. It took a few lectures to get accustomed to how slow he talks, and the rather slow pace of the lectures. There is an annoying over abundance of the metaphors analogizing stars to family members, brothers, sisters, babies, wombs… especially his use of “stellar nurseries” as if he was afraid to say nebula. I consider it intellectual betrayal. I would hate to be the fledgling astronomer referring to “The Orion Nebula stellar nursery” who gets corrected. No self-respecting astronomer would call a nebula a stellar nursery repeatedly. I did enjoy the class, and it is a great value (on sale, around fifty dollars). I would be hard pressed to find a better introduction to the life and death of stars for the price.
Date published: 2017-05-06
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Great material, flawed presentation I was quite excited about this course form the description, but find it unwatchable after two lectures. The subject matter is interesting and deep, well worth a TC course. But the professor speaks so slowly, and in such a sing-song voice, that the course comes across as one aimed at slow 5th graders. I just had to stop.
Date published: 2017-03-31
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Very disappointing I am not sure what audience this course is aimed at but it is not a University level course. Seems to be more of a Middle Level High School presentation. Most of it falls into the classification of a data dump without much real analysis. The presentation is somewhat condescending with many comparisons between star formation and human birth that fail to provide any real insight into what is really going on. He also talks about stars like they were intelligent creatures going about their business of become stars. Many of the visuals I had no idea of just what I was supposed to see in the vast jumble of stars and nebula. There are several other Teaching Company courses that present this same material in a much more insightful manner. On a positive tone, the professor does maintain a consistent use of color and sudo-color throughout the course, always using blue for hotter and red for cooler which is physically correct.
Date published: 2017-03-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very good Let me start by saying I truly enjoyed this course and I am being honest when I give it 5/5 stars. Having a background in the sciences, I understand some of the misgivings of other reviewers regarding professor Stassun's tendency to anthropomorphize. To be fair though, he repeatedly mentioned he was using analogies to make the content more meaningful to the human experience. I really enjoyed his style for many reasons. I found his pacing, approach, and use of language engaging. Should pacing always be rapid in lectures? The way he presented information was accessible, fun, and entertaining. "Humanizing" science is not always easy to do, but finding the 'balance' is of the utmost importance so learning is accessible. This is the kind of course that I can share with my young daughter and friends who have no background in chemistry and physics. Many complex concepts were explained clearly and with excellent analogies. I not only learned new content, but also discovered practical language to express these complex concepts to others. For me, this is great because there's nothing better to do with one's learning than to share it. Thank you, professor Stassun, for providing the framework and language for myself and others to do so.
Date published: 2017-01-26
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Sesame Street Astronomy I'm sorry I bought this course. It's unfortunate that Teaching Company tries to pass this off as a college level presentation. The instructor comes across as a cartoonish creation of some kids TV program. If you took out all of the gobbly -gook you wouldn't have much science left.
Date published: 2016-11-29
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The Life and Death of Stars
Course Trailer
Why the Stellar Life Cycle Matters
1: 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
2: 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
3: 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
4: 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
5: 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
6: 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
7: 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
8: 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
9: 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
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.


Vanderbilt University


University of Wisconsin, Madison

About Keivan G. Stassun

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.

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