Under Morgan-Keenan classification stellar classes are called O, B, A, F, G, K, M, but what is the logic behind these letters? I can't see any pattern and I doubt they have just been chosen randomly. I also wasn't able to find an answer on the Internet, so is there any reason stellar classes are called this way?

  • $\begingroup$ " I also wasn't able to find an answer on the Internet,"; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stellar_classification#History ?? $\endgroup$ – Rob Jeffries Jun 13 at 12:23
  • $\begingroup$ @RobJeffries, I'm not a native english speaker, I mainly read information in russian and only gave a quick look to english wikipedia article, my mistake $\endgroup$ – Alex Chashin Jun 13 at 13:31

It seems like these letters are inherited from Draper classification system, which used letters to subdivide classes defined by Secchi. Secchi classification uses numbers I to V, while Draper did use letters in alphabet in order. Some of the letters got dropped, and classes reordered later to match physical features (temperature / spectrum) better.

I believe Secchi and Draper added categories as new types of stars were discovered (eg carbon stars and Wolff-Rayet stars seem to be added later), and thus the categorization did not remain as logical as it could've been had it been designed with full knowledge from scratch. Modern system wanted to retain (some of the) existing labels but order them based on some physical feature.

Wikipedia article seems to have pretty decent details on this too: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stellar_classification

| improve this answer | |
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Just to expand a little on the “some physical feature” part of this answer, the original, alphabetical ordering was based on the strength of the hydrogen Balmer lines. But that left discontinuities in the strengths of many other lines, and Annie Jump Cannon reordered the sequence (also eliminating some classes) to make all line strengths change more smoothly, into what was later shown to be a temperature sequence. So both O (hottest) and M (coolest) have weak H lines (and thus are close alphabetically) but for different reasons (ionization of H vs. lack of excitation of key H energy levels). $\endgroup$ – ELNJ Jun 13 at 13:46

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.