We can study the individual properties of individual stars, such as photospheric temperature, luminosity, radius, composition and mass. If we wish to understand more about stars and obtain some insight into their evolution, we need to look at the overall distribution of stellar properties. We would like to know the answers to such questions as 'Can stars have any combination of these properties?' and 'How many stars are there of each type?' We can potentially learn a lot more about the stars if we compare them, but what should be the basis of our comparison? We certainly want to use intrinsic properties, such as luminosity, and not properties that depend on the distance to the star, such as the flux density received on Earth. Also, as an initial step, we want to avoid properties that are well removed from what we actually observe. In this course we look at probably the most important diagram in stellar astronomy, the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram, and how it is used to identify the main classes of stars.
This OpenLearn course is an adapted extract from the Open University course S282.