You are on page 1of 7

Astro 001: H-R Diagram Lab

 Construct the “Color-magnitude diagram” (CMD) for stars in the Beehive Cluster, also known as
Messier 44 (M44), using images provided by Google Sky.
 Understand how the CMD relates to the “Hertzsprung-Russell (HR) Diagram” of a star cluster.
 Compare the measured M44 color-magnitude diagram to one provided for the Hyades
Cluster, and use this to determine the distance to M44.
 Estimate the age of the M44 star cluster.

You should have covered the Hertzsprung-Russell diagrams in class. If you are unsure, information on
brightness, color, and luminosity can be found in the section on the "Properties of Stars" in the
"Surveying the Stars" chapter (chpt. 15) of your Cosmic Perspective textbook. Hertzsprung-Russell
Diagrams are explained in the next section – “Patterns Among the Stars.” A quick review of measured
HR diagrams is given below.

*Note: You will need to download Google Earth software, and have software able to read and write
Microsoft Excel spreadsheets.

Background – the Magnitude scale:

Google Sky will provide measurements of the brightness of each star using the traditional astronomical
magnitude scale. The magnitude scale was developed when early astronomers were using their eyes
alone to determine stellar brightness, or what we today call the flux. Brighter objects (higher flux) are
assigned lower magnitudes! Since the flux measures apparent brightness, these are called apparent
magnitudes. The magnitude scale is not limited to whole numbers, and can also be negative. The Sun is
magnitude -27.6. The brightest nighttime star is magnitude -1.46. Your eye can see a star as dim as
magnitude 5. You can refer to Mathematical Insight 15.3, “The Modern Magnitude Scale”, in your
textbook for more information. The key equation below relates flux to mass. For two stars with
magnitudes m1 and m2, their fluxes f1 and f2 are related by:

= (1001⁄5 )(𝑚2 −𝑚1 ) = 2.51(𝑚2 −𝑚1 ) .

We are usually interested in the luminosity L of a star, rather than its flux. These are related by:

𝐿 = 𝑓 × 4𝜋𝑑 2 (1)

where 𝑑 is the distance to the star. Suppose we know that our two stars have the same distance 𝑑∗
from us. Then combining these two equations gives us the relative luminosities:

𝐿1 4𝜋𝑑∗2 ×𝑓1 𝑓1
= = = 2.51(𝑚2−𝑚1) (2)
𝐿2 4𝜋𝑑∗2 ×𝑓2 𝑓2
Another important application is that if we know that two stars are identical, so that they share a
common luminosity 𝐿∗ then we know that their distances must obey:

(𝑚2 −𝑚1 ) 𝑓1 𝐿∗ 𝐿∗ 𝑑22

2.51 = = ⁄ =
𝑓2 4𝜋𝑑12 4𝜋𝑑22 𝑑12

= √2.51(𝑚2−𝑚1) (3)

Background – color magnitude diagrams:

Hertzsprung-Russell (HR) diagrams are plots of luminosity (plotted on the vertical axis with more
luminous stars at the top), and surface temperature (the horizontal axis with temperatures increasing from
right to left). Neither of these quantities are easy to measure. Instead astronomers often use the easier to
measure quantities, apparent magnitude, and color.

A star’s color is a good indicator of temperature - red stars are much cooler than blue stars. A
quantitative measurement of color can be obtained by comparing a star’s apparent magnitude in data taken
at different wavelengths. By placing a blue filter in a telescope only blue light will get through so the
apparent magnitude you measure will only depend on the amount of blue light emitted from a star. This is
referred to as the B magnitude. Likewise if a green filter is used then only green light gets through the
telescope and you measure the V (for “visual”) magnitude. By looking at the difference between a star’s B
and V magnitudes you get a measurement of its temperature - hotter stars emit more blue light, hence the
will have lower B magnitudes, meaning the difference in the B magnitude and the V magnitude (B-V)
becomes a lower number. Therefore B-V is known as a color index. The larger the color index, the more red,
or cooler, the object is, and the smaller the color index, the more blue, or hot, the object is. This color index
can be used as a replacement for the temperature on the x-axis of an HR diagram.

In a similar manner instead of plotting luminosity on the y axis astronomers can use the apparent
magnitude (or flux) of stars (see equation 1). In this lab we will use the V magnitude. However for this to
work then it is important all the stars are at the same (or at least very similar) distance from Earth. One way
to ensure this is to choose stars that are the members of a star cluster. Star clusters are groups of stars
formed from the same cold cloud of gas and dust. All members of a given cluster are close together and are
of similar age. As the distance to the cluster from the Earth is much larger than the typical separation of
stars inside the cluster we can assume that all these stars are at the same distance from Earth and that the
apparent magnitude is a good measure of the luminosity. Note that this does not apply when comparing
stars which are in different clusters.

An HR diagram plotted using color and

magnitude is referred to as a color magnitude
diagram and it contains all of the same
features as the HR diagrams you will have
covered in class (see the example to the left).
Note, so that the brightest stars are at the top
of the plot, the y axis of the color magnitude
diagram is plotted with the numbers
decreasing as you go up the page.
*Note: Be sure to read the instructions and each question very carefully, and complete all
necessary tasks, including showing your work. Failure to do so will result in loss of points.

Prep Questions

Q1: Stars A, B, and C are identical except they are at different distances from the Earth. Use formula
(3) from above to fill in the empty entries for the distances to B and C given the distance to A. Show
your work.

Star A Star B Star C

B Magnitude 4.08 10.34 7.13

V Magnitude 3.14 9.40 6.19

Distance (light-years) 120

Q2: Stars D, E, and F are all different temperatures. Fill in the table below and order their
temperatures from coldest to hottest. State the reason for your choice.

Coldest | | Hottest

Star D Star E Star F

B Magnitude 8.05 6.19 12.15

V Magnitude 7.19 5.76 10.7

B-V Color Index

Data Collection:
We will plot a color-magnitude diagram for stars in the M44 cluster. M44 is a dense open
cluster, which is a group of stars formed from the same cold cloud of gas and dust. Therefore, all
members of a given cluster are close together and are of similar age. We can assume that all the stars
are at the same distance from Earth.

1. Go to and follow the links to download and install the free version of Google
Earth, a program that allows the user to explore the earth and outer space (the free version is fine). To
install, you may need to save the file to disk and then run Google Earth by double-clicking on the file.

2. Download the file m44.kml from your class’s canvas page and double-click the file to open it. You
should then be prompted by Google Earth to switch to Google Sky, which you should do. Double click
on m44 in the list of places on the left. You can zoom in and out using the scrollbar on your mouse (or
the slider bar in the top right of the Google Earth window). You can move with the arrow keys or by
clicking and dragging. M44 (also known as the Beehive Cluster) is a clump of stars 1 or 2 degrees across
– zoom in until you can see the label for the Beehive cluster. (If it helps the angular size of your field of
view can be seen in the bottom right. I would zoom in until this reads just greater than 1 degree.)

3. Now when you scroll the mouse over a star a white circle will appear around it. If you click on the
star you should see two numbers, one for B magnitude, and one for V magnitude. Do not take data
from stars missing one (or both) of these measurements.

Download and save the Excel file called HRDiagramSpreadsheet.xlsx from the class web page. Open the
file then enter your stars’ info in the columns called “M44 B Magnitude” and “M44 V Magnitude” in the
Excel document for at least 50 different stars. (Do not enter data in the first two rows of these
columns). The more stars you do, the more accurate your sampling will be. Remember that a good HR
diagram must contain stars over a wide range of brightness, so choose a mix of bright and faint stars –
zoom in to see the faint stars better.

4. The spreadsheet will calculate the B-V index for your stars and plot magnitude measurements in
visible light (V) against the difference between the magnitudes measured in blue and visible light (B-V).
On the graph of the color-magnitude diagram your points for M44 should appear in green as you enter
data. Also on this graph are some stars from the Hyades cluster (shown in blue).

5. Now you will estimate the distance to M44. Re-read the section on main sequence fitting in the
Cosmic Perspective textbook (in section 20.2 – “Measuring Galactic Distances”).

a. The idea is that the two clusters (the Hyades and M44) contain, on average, the same
composition of stars. Therefore, if the main sequence of one cluster is lower than the other (higher
magnitude = not as bright), the reason is that it is further away. You are going to employ main
sequence fitting to figure out the distance to the M44 cluster. The distance to the Hyades is 153 light-
years, measured accurately using parallax.
b. In the cell “Enter M44 Magnitude shift Δ V here:” enter an offset Δ V (in magnitudes,
probably a negative value between -5 and 0) to shift your M44 data up or down on the graph. Estimate
the brightness difference (in magnitudes) of the main sequences of Hyades and M44 by adjusting V to
shift the M44 main sequence atop the Hyades main sequence. After your main sequences have lined up
answer questions 3 & 4. Show your work.

Print a copy of your spreadsheet, including the shifted plot, and turn it in with this
write up.

Q3: Before the shift, which cluster’s stars are brighter at a given temperature? Is M44 closer or further
than Hyades? (Reread 5(a) above if you are stuck)

Q4: Using equation 3 from the Background section, the distance to Hyades (157 light years), and the
difference in the magnitudes of their main sequences (ΔV), calculate the distance to M44. Express your
answer in both light years and meters. Show your work.

Approximate distance of M44 light years = meters.

6. Identify these types of stars:

Q5: Did you find any red giants in M44? If so, identify them on your HR diagram (circle them). If you did
not find any then label where you think the red giants would be.

Q6: Did you find any white dwarfs? If so, identify them on your HR diagram (circle them). If they are
not on your diagram (or you did not find any) then label where you think the white dwarfs would be.
7. Next you will estimate the age of the M44 cluster.

a. Locate the brightest and the faintest main-sequence M44 stars on your color-magnitude diagram and
figure out which spreadsheet entry they belong to. Circle these stars on your HR diagram and circle or
highlight the entry they represent. Recall that white dwarves and red giants are not on the main sequence,
and they may be the faintest and brightest stars on your diagram. The spreadsheet has calculated for you
the flux of each star (in 𝑊 ⁄𝑚2 ) from the magnitudes you entered using some detailed formulae that you do
not need to worry about. Enter the non-shifted V magnitude and flux of your brightest and faintest stars in
the table below.

b. Using Equation (1) from the Background section, figure out the luminosities of your brightest and
faintest main-sequence stars. Convert this to solar luminosity units (Lsun=3.8x1026 W) and enter in the
table below.

c. Estimate the masses of your faintest and brightest main sequence using this relation, and enter in the

𝐿 𝑀 3.5
=( )
𝐿𝑆𝑢𝑛 𝑀𝑆𝑢𝑛

Q7: Fill out the following table using instructions above.

Brightest M44 Main-sequence Faintest M44 Main-sequence

Quantity (Units) star star

V magnitude

Flux (W m-2)

Luminosity (W)

Luminosity (LSun)

Mass (MSun)

Q8: Imagine for now that you measured all the stars in the google sky image. Do you think that there are any main-
sequence stars in M44 more massive than your brightest one? Do you think that there are any main-sequence
stars in M44 less massive than your faintest one? Why?
The lifetimes of main-sequence stars obey this relation:

𝑀 −2.5
𝐿𝑖𝑓𝑒𝑡𝑖𝑚𝑒 = (1010 𝑦𝑒𝑎𝑟𝑠) × ( )

Q9: All of the stars in M44 will have formed at approximately the same time. Which of your stars is
closest to the end of its main-sequence lifespan?

Q10: Using your answers and the equation above, estimate the age of the M44 star cluster in
years. Explain how you estimated this.

Q11: Is there more or less scatter in your main sequence for M44 compared to the main sequence of
Hyades? Can you give any reasons for this difference?