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What are the most extreme temperatures (both hot and cold) stars have been detected at? Is there an upper and lower limit for the detected temperature of stars?

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up vote 12 down vote accepted

The answer depends on what you'd want to consider as a "star." If you're just thinking about stars on the main sequence, then you can just refer to the classical stellar type letters, "OBAFGKM" (which has relatively recently been extended to accommodate the coolest brown dwarfs with the letters "LTY"), where O-stars are the hottest stars (~30,000 K) and Y-stars are the coldest, so-called "room-temperature" stars (~300 K).

Self-gravitating, gaseous objects are incapable of fusing deuterium below about 13 Jupiter masses, and thus simply collapse and cool perpetually (as is the case for all the giant planets in our solar system). These objects can be colder than 300 K but are not technically stars as they do not undergo nuclear fusion.

For stars that leave the main sequence, two possible outcomes are a white dwarf star or a neutron star, both of which are born extremely hot: White dwarfs are born with surface temperatures of ~10^9 K, whereas neutron stars are born with surface temperatures of ~10^12 K. However, both white dwarfs and neutron stars cool as they age, with the coldest known white dwarfs being ~3,000 K, and neutron stars cooling to ~10^6 K.

So to answer the first part of your question: The coldest known stars are Y-stars (i.e. brown dwarfs) and the hottest known stars are either O-stars or young neutron stars, depending on whether you consider objects that have left the main sequence or not.

And as for strict lower and upper limits, the coldest stars possible are likely black dwarfs, which are what white dwarfs become after cooling for a very long time (>10^15 years). The hottest stars are likely the newly-born neutron stars I previously mentioned, it is very difficult to get much hotter than 10^12 K because any excess energy is carried away via neutrinos.

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+1 Great answer, what are the hottest and the coldest stars ever detected. I did not know stars could be that cool, incredible! – user8 Sep 25 '13 at 4:29
What about – Donald.McLean Sep 25 '13 at 14:30
Likely those wouldn't be any hotter than normal young neutron stars, as their surfaces would still cool via neutrino emission, which is very effective at temperatures in excess of 10^10 K. – Guillochon Sep 25 '13 at 16:21
How do you get this 10^10K limit? Theory? Could you explain exactly how you get this? – astromax Sep 30 '13 at 23:39
+1 But I think the hottest temperatures quoted for the NS and WD may be too high and reflect the core temperature rather than surface temperature? – Rob Jeffries May 4 '15 at 7:57

This question already has a very good answer, I would just like to add a few details.

Says here that when the universe was 10^-33cm in diameter, its temperature was 10^32K. Therefore that should be the absolute max temperature reachable in this universe, and so the max temperature of a star should be below that; very interesting what Guillochon said above, that neutrinos carry away excess energy above 10^12K.

The color of a star gives away its temperature. It is interesting to note that the corona of a star including our Sun can be well over a million K even though the surface temperature of our star is around 6000 K.

Also, in stellar cores, hydrogen fusion into helium starts at 3 million K, while carbon fusion starts at above 500 million K, and silicon fusion starts at over 2700 million K for comparison.

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Mostly irrelevant. – Rob Jeffries Jun 1 '15 at 22:05

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