There are numerous charts and diagrams showing the stages of stellar evolution, as:

these ones



among many more (you can find several after googling a little), for example.

When I studied my B.Sc. on Physics, I learned that compact objects (which today are stellar and intermediate mass black holes, white dwarves and neutron stars) are the final stages of some kind of massive stars, and depending primarily on the mass of the progenitor star, such different compact objects can be given birth.

I would like to know if there is a place (like a book, a review or an official website) that can give a broad discussion about what is the best and most updated classification of the different stars, their type and which of them can give birth to WDs, NSs or BHs. This is because I am still learning about the different types of supernovae and I want to read more about them originating NSs or BHs.

I have more questions on this, I want to know if red giants can give birth or not to compact objects, just like red supergiants and blue supergiants do? And if yes, what is the end story or process between a giant or instead a supergiant originating a compact object?

Also, I know there is still a big discussion about our Sun ending only in a planetary nebula or becoming first a WD, and then becoming actually such kind of nebula. So I would like to know more about the most up-to-date stages of stellar evolution, as of today in 2024. This is why I would like to prefer reading a recent, good source. I know Shapiro & Teukolsky's book, but theirs is from 1983, even if they had a reprint some years ago.


2 Answers 2


It is now known, through a detailed study of the cooling times of white dwarfs in open clusters of known age, and through modelling of their progenitors, that white dwarfs arise from single main sequence stars of masses $< 7-10 M_\odot$. Only single star progenitors with mass $>1M_\odot$ have had time to become white dwarfs within the age of our Galaxy and appear to produce white dwarfs with mass around $0.5M_\odot$. The more massive white dwarfs progenitors produce white dwarfs of mass 0.5 to about $1.1M_\odot$. The upper limit is slightly uncertain; the most massive progenitors at $\sim 8-10M_\odot$ may leave $\sim 1.1-1.3 M_\odot$ white dwarfs made predominantly of oxygen and neon, rather than the more usual carbon and oxygen.

Lower mass progenitors will eventually produce less massive white dwarfs, which below $0.45M_\odot$ would be made mostly of helium. He white dwarfs are found now, but these are the products of binary stellar evolution involving the transfer of mass between stellar components. As may be judged from the difference between the white dwarf mass and progenitor mass, all white dwarf formation involves significant mass loss; this occurs chiefly in the red giant and asymptotic giant branch phases of stellar evolution.

More massive progenitors will leave behind neutron stars and black holes. The exact dividing line between stars which produce either is still theoretically uncertain. It also depends on stellar composition, particularly the metallicity that determines the amount of mass loss a progenitor will suffer; rotation; and magnetic field.

In most models I have seen, the least massive progenitors, say $10-20M_\odot$ will leave neutron star remnants of mass $1.2-2.5M_\odot$ (the upper limit having a significant uncertainty), whilst more massive progenitors leave proto neutron stars that either collapse into black holes when more material falls back onto them, or directly collapse into a black hole because they cannot be supported as neutron stars. Black hole remnants appear (so far) to be more massive than $\sim 5M_\odot$.

There is likely to be an upper limit to the mass of a star that will leave any remnant. The star may blow itself up entirely in a pair instability supernova in progenitors with mass greater than around $130-140M_\odot$, leaving no remnant, and should leave an upper limit of around $50-60M_\odot$ for black holes produced by core collapse. It is possible that stars more massive than about $250M_\odot$ may again be able to leave behind more massive $(> 100M_\odot)$ black holes, but such progenitors would need to be metal-poor to form in the first place.

There are lots of details still to be worked out - the exact form of the initial-final mass relation in white dwarfs and how it depends on metallicity; the exact boundary progenitor masses for C/O Vs O/Ne white dwarfs; the boundary masses between progenitors that produce neutron stars vs black holes and how that depends on composition and rotation; the upper mass limit for neutron stars; the lower mass limit for black holes and whether there is an upper limit caused by pair instability supernovae.

In terms of summaries - well the above is my version; the summaries and further reading (i.e. the references) provided by the Wikipedia pages on white dwarfs, supernovae, pair instability supernovae and "mass gaps" also provide an eminently sensible story. Specifically, you could start by looking at Heger et al. (2003) on the fates of massive stars; Kalirai et al. (2008) who discuss white dwarf progenitors; Spera et al. (2015) who provide a theoretical perspective and the review of supernovae and their remnants by Limongi (2017), from which the plot below is taken, showing final remnant mass versus progenitor mass at two different metallicities reflecting the present day or the early universe.

Initial mass vs remanant mass

Concerning some of your more specific questions (and perhaps you should ask more specific questions separately), all white dwarfs will have passed through red giant and asymptotic red giant phases. This will be the fate of the Sun in just over 7 billion years time. It should undergo significant mass loss, which will likely result in a planetary nebulae when it leaves behind a hot, $\sim 0.5M_\odot$ carbon/oxygen white dwarf (e.g., Schroeder & Connon Smith 2008). Progenitors massive enough to leave neutron star and black hole remnants can have very complex evolutionary histories depending on their composition, rotation and binary status - becoming red and/or blue supergiants, Wolf-Rayet stars or luminous blue variables.

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    $\begingroup$ Please, I would like to know the exact sources of your statements on the mass intervals you claimed for the progenitor stars, like you did for the Carbon/Oxygen WD quoting Schroeder & Connor Smith's article. That would be more helpful than Wikipedia sources. $\endgroup$
    – omivela17
    Jan 17 at 17:08
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    $\begingroup$ @omivela17 see edit. $\endgroup$
    – ProfRob
    Jan 18 at 12:29
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, actually I don't trust much when getting info from Wikipedia articles but well, in this case it appears that they rely on good references. I will try to look by myself if any of these articles have had significant updates, because today we know the BH with the least mass has around 3.2 solar masses and there is still some stuff I don't get fully about red giants and their end stages. This was very helpful at any case, so thank you $\endgroup$
    – omivela17
    Jan 19 at 22:36
  • $\begingroup$ Which black hole is that? @omivela17 $\endgroup$
    – ProfRob
    Jan 19 at 23:05
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry, I just came back to this. Take a look here: science.org/doi/10.1126/science.aau4005. Also, look at Rhoades and Ruffini's result in 1974 where they showed there can no be neutron star formed with more than 3.2 solar masses: journals.aps.org/prl/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevLett.32.324 @ProfRob $\endgroup$
    – omivela17
    Feb 7 at 6:53

NASA has a great page, surrounding different stellar classes and their ultimate fates. If you want to learn about supernova types in specific however, this article by Astronomy.com is a nice summary of that. These sources are quite informative.

Now, for your second question: Yes, red giants (<1 - 7-ish Solar masses) do give birth to compact objects called white dwarfs. Basically, after the red giant star runs out of gas, it will let go of its outer layers to form a planetary nebula, as the star itself deflates into an extremely compact white dwarf since it collapses in onto itself. This is because it it is no longer strong enough hold on to its shell because there is no longer any fusion to stabilize the now dense core's gravity.

The trigger of a core-collapse supernova like a type "lc" also involves a star collapsing in onto itself - just a really massive one (>8 Solar masses). Since it is so heavy, instead of gently shedding off its outer layers, it blasts them off as an explosion as the core, which can also no longer support itself, implodes. Since this implosion event is so severe, the remnant is a neutron star, where protons and electrons have essentially merged with each other to form neutrons; as the name suggests. However, if the star was REALLY massive (>20 Solar masses according to this article), its implosion will be even more extreme to the point where a black hole forms, because the star's core was far too dense to even create an object like a neutron star.

Hopefully that clears up any questions you had lingering. Stellar evolution is quite interesting.

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    $\begingroup$ It is cool you give me those articles on astronomy.com, by any chance you know any peered source where I can find more about the progenitor stars mass intervals? $\endgroup$
    – omivela17
    Jan 17 at 17:09
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    $\begingroup$ Do you mean an article that states the precise mass of a progenitor star based on the compact remnant's classification? If so, I unfortunately could not find such specifics in an article, and the closest I found are the ones I provided in my answer. However, the only known possible compact objects that can be formed are WDs (<1 - 7 SM) NSs (>8 SM), and BHs (>20 SM), only with some variation in mass and composition based on the progenitor's characteristics. $\endgroup$
    – 4NT4R3S
    Jan 17 at 22:08

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