Astronomy compels the soul to look upwards and leads us from this world to another.

Hertzsprung-Russell Diagram

Learn about the diagram which relates the luminosity of a star with its temperature and why this is important

Written By on in Solar Physics 0

Hertzsprung-Russell Diagram

456 words, estimated reading time 3 minutes.

The Hertzsprung-Russell diagram shows the relationship between different properties of stars and illustrates trends among stars. The diagram was created in 1910 by Ejnar Hertzsprung and Henry Norris Russell, and represented a huge leap forward in understanding stellar evolution, or the 'lives of stars'.
Introduction to Astronomy Series
  1. Introduction to Astronomy
  2. The Celestial Sphere - Right Ascension and Declination
  3. What is Angular Size?
  4. What is the Milky Way?
  5. The Magnitude Scale
  6. Sidereal Time, Civil Time and Solar Time
  7. Equinoxes and Solstices
  8. Parallax, Distance and Parsecs
  9. Flux
  10. Luminosity of Stars
  11. Apparent Magnitude, Absolute Magnitude and Distance
  12. Variable Stars
  13. Spectroscopy and Spectrometry
  14. Redshift and Blueshift
  15. Spectral Classification of Stars
  16. Hertzsprung-Russell Diagram
  17. Kepler's Laws of Planetary Motion
  18. The Lagrange Points
  19. What is an Exoplanet?
  20. Glossary of Astronomy & Photographic Terms

The Hertzsprung-Russell diagram (usually referred to by the abbreviation H-R diagram or HRD, also known as a colour-magnitude diagram, or CMD) shows the relationship between absolute magnitude, luminosity, classification, and effective temperature of stars.

In this HR diagram, 22,000 stars are plotted from the Hipparcos catalogue and 1000 from the Gliese catalogue of nearby stars. An examination of the diagram shows that stars tend to fall only into certain regions on the diagram. The most predominant are the diagonal, going from the upper left (hot and bright) to the lower-right (cooler and less bright), called the main sequence.

The main sequence is visible as a prominent diagonal band that runs from the upper left to the lower right.


  • Apparent Magnitude (m) of a star is a measure of its brightness as seen from Earth.
  • Absolute Magnitude (M) of a star is its apparent magnitude as seen from the standard distance (10 Parsecs)
  • Colour Index (B-V) is a measure of the stars colour, or temperature.

Colour Index (B-V)

Hot stars give off more blue light than red; cool stars give off more red light than blue. Coloured filters are used to measure different wavelengths of light from stars. The magnitude of the star is measured first through a standardised B-band ("blue") filter. Then the magnitude of the star is measured through a V-band ("visible", peaking in green) filter. The value of V is subtracted from B to get the B-V colour index. This leads to the spectral classification of a star.

As a star gets cooler and therefore redder, the B-V colour index increases since smaller magnitudes correspond to brighter light. Hot stars have a small B-V and cool stars have a large B-V. Hotter stars, therefore, appear to the left on the HR diagram and cooler stars appear on the right.


Most of the stars occupy the region in the diagram along the line called the Main Sequence. During that stage, stars are fusing hydrogen in their cores. The next concentration of stars is on the horizontal branch (helium fusion in the core and hydrogen burning in a shell surrounding the core).

The H-R diagram can also be used by scientists to roughly measure how far away a star cluster is from Earth. This can be done by comparing the apparent magnitudes of the stars in the cluster to the absolute magnitudes of stars with known distances (or of model stars). The observed group is then shifted in the vertical direction until the two main sequences overlap. The difference in magnitude that was bridged in order to match the two groups is called the distance modulus and is a direct measure of the distance. This technique is known as main-sequence fitting, or, confusingly, as the spectroscopic parallax.

Last updated on: Saturday 22nd July 2017

Did you Like this Post? Why not Like us on Facebook?


Further Reading

There are no comments for this post. Be the first!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.