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The Life and Death of Stars

Episode 27 of 30

15 minutes
First broadcast:
Tuesday 01 July 2008

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

Until the modern era of astrophysics, nobody knew what made stars shine. The answer arose from the nuclear age. The sun and stars are like giant hydrogen bombs, controlled nuclear explosions.

In the 1950s, Fred Hoyle and his colleagues showed how new elements are created in stars as they burn hydrogen and helium. In the case of relatively small stars such as our sun, the fuel eventually runs out, the bloated outer layers are lost into space and a slowly cooling white dwarf remains. But massive stars begin to collapse in on themselves when fuel runs out at the core, creating a huge explosion known as a supernova.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-Tutt and John Palmer.


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