Heat, Radiation, and the Temperatures of Stars

  • Lloyd Motz
  • Jefferson Hane Weaver


We have reached a stage in our study of stars at which we can begin to deduce the numerical values of important surface and internal stellar characteristics that we cannot measure directly. Among these characteristics, whose numerical values we can calculate by applying the known laws of physics to stellar data, is the surface temperature of a star. Like the sun, all the stars around us are hot, self-luminous bodies. But just how hot are the stars and how do we measure their surface temperatures, which are measures of their hotness? In our discussion of the sun we gave its surface temperature as about 6000°K. How did we obtain this value and can we apply the same procedure to determine the temperatures of stars in general? The answer is yes to the last part of the question and we can answer the first part once we understand the meaning of temperature and the nature of stellar radiation.


Color Index Wave Theory Blackbody Radiation Photoelectric Effect Total Mechanical Energy 
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Chapter 10

  1. 1.
    Many of the details in this biography are drawn from: James R. Newman, “James Clerk Maxwell,” Scientific American (June 1955). See also L. Campbell and W. Garnett, The Life of James Clerk Maxwell. London, 1882, 2nd ed.;Google Scholar
  2. 1a.
    J. J. Thomson, James Clerk Maxwell 1831–1931. Cambridge, 1931;MATHGoogle Scholar
  3. 1b.
    J. G. Crowther, British Scientists of the Nineteenth Century, London, 1932;Google Scholar
  4. 1c.
    R. V. Jones, “James Clerk Maxwell at Aberdeen 1856–1860,” in Notes and Records. Royal Society of London, 28 (1973), 57–81.Google Scholar
  5. 2.
    Max Planck, Scientific Autobiography. New York: Philosophical Library, p. 14.Google Scholar
  6. 3.
    Planck, op. cit., p. 19.Google Scholar
  7. 4.
    See Max Born, Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society, 6, 1948, pp. 161–180.Google Scholar
  8. 5.
    Planck, op. cit., p. 45.Google Scholar

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© Lloyd Motz and Jefferson Hane Weaver 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lloyd Motz
  • Jefferson Hane Weaver

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