The Main Sequence Blues
Once upon a time there was a five-solar-mass star named Brutus. This five-solar-mass star was the biggest, meanest five- solar-mass star in the whole spiral arm. Now the latest fad in Brutus's stellar neighborhood was to get an energy high by burning hydrogen in your core (where no one could see). At night, when few people were looking, Brutus and his buddies would line up on the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram and "do" hydrogen. They called themselves the Main Sequence.
Now Brutus could party up a storm: he could "do" more hydrogen than his smaller friends, and could frequently be seen even in the wee hours of the morning all energized up, spitting up photons like crazy.
Soon Brutus burned all his core hydrogen, and the law demanded he leave his friends on the Main Sequence and go off to galactic prison. Brutus was first assigned to the Red Giant Branch. Some thought this was just a phase he was going through, and that he would be back soon, but for Brutus there was no return.
"Hey man, do HELIUM, man," his big new friends would say. "You'll reach a new high. Do it, man, do HELIUM." Since all his 'Giant buddies were into helium so, eventually, was Brutus, becoming more energetic than ever before. But before Brutus expected it he burned out, he ran out of helium to burn in his core. Brutus became depressed and contracted within himself.
"Hey man, do CARBON, man," some of the cooler stars would say. "It'll blow your mind, it'll dump your depression, it'll ignite your innards. Don't be a dwarf star, man, DO it!"
So Brutus did carbon, and it was even more fantastic than they said, it was the best of any element yet. The photons pulsed through Brutus's photosphere like never before in his entire life. But after almost no time his carbon burned out, and none of the other stars would sell him theirs, not even his down and out white dwarf friends. The only thing Brutus could do was burn carbon around his core, which he did, as he did helium and hydrogen as well, but it just didn't turn him on like it used to. Brutus needed something else.
"Should I do SILICON, man, should I?" he asked his friends.
"That degenerate stuff? Are you crazy? I wouldn't touch that stuff. No way. Uh-uh, "they all said. "Just cool out, OK?"
"You can't do it, you're not big enough," his smart friends would say. "Its 'da body weight, you don't have enough, so stay off the silicon, man. Stay off the silicon, you hear?"
But Brutus wouldn't listen. When nobody was looking, he tried to do silicon.
One day one of Brutus's old flames came by the old stellar neighborhood asking about him. "Whatever happened to that big hunk of gas?" she asked.
"Oh look, THERE he is, " some star replied, indicating a super bright flare in the sky that slowly faded to nothing. Even stars that knew Brutus were shocked.
"Too bad," she said, "he never did know his limitations."
"Nonsense," Brutus's friends disagreed, "it was fate."
On one thing they did agree: the answer was blowing in the wind.
by Robert J. Nemiroff
Appeared in Astronomy Magazine in 1986, Volume 14, Section 1, page 24