How a Star Is Born, According to Astronomers

With the release of Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga's 'A Star is Born' we talked to astronomers about how actual stars form in the cosmos.

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Oct 8 2018, 9:15pm

Vague spoilers ahead.

I hadn't seen the trailer before I went to see A Star Is Born in theaters. All I knew about the movie was that it starred Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper and was vaguely country. I assumed the two stars would fall in love and that it would be a cute romantic drama. Only the first was true. I left the theater eyes puffy and red, upset that I wasn't prepared for how tragic the film turned out to be.

If you're looking for something to remind you that love, no matter how passionate, is hard and complicated, A Star Is Born is for you. You'll definitely get a good cry in. If, however, you're more interested in a little escapism after a news cycle from hell, may I suggest you instead spend your time learning how a star is actually born, literally?

"Stars form out of gas and dust," astronomer Dr. Carol Christian tells Broadly. This gas and dust, with the help of gravity, begin to compress until the temperature at the center gets extremely hot, around 10 million degrees Kelvin. It is at this point that the matter eventually collapses in on itself and goes through a nuclear reaction called fusion, when the material which has collapsed inwards begins to resemble a bright star.

Gas and dust are underwhelming at best, and ugly at worst. In A Star Is Born, we're supposed to think the same of Lady Gaga's appearance (despite her being conventionally beautiful). But like Gaga's character Ally, with some time and hard work, gas and dust eventually become something shiny and stunning—a star.

I ask Dr. Christian if she sees any metaphors that stars offer on the human experience. "Regarding stars and humans [...] both have a life cycle: birth, growth, middle age, death." She warns, "One has to be careful with analogies. Not everything (in my opinion) can be personified. I think the physics is glorious on its own."

But after associate director at the Space Science Institute Ralph Shuping tells me that "stars are almost never born in isolation," the connection between the literal stars and our singing stars seems unavoidable. Ally wouldn't have become the sensation she does if not for Jackson, and it's clear that Jackson, if not for Ally, would have burnt out far sooner than he did.

A star will burn, like Ally and Jackson's love, until it runs out of hydrogen gas. Stars, too, are mortal, living from a few million to a few billion years. While the love story of our sexy cowboy and new pop star runs for two hours and change, the stars, twinkling and burning for my lifetime and yours, are a more reliable source of refuge. We look up to them, knowing they're always there, reminding us how small we are, and that if dust can shine bright from at minimum 4.2 light years away, so can we.