The unqualified term instability strip usually refers to a region of the Hertzsprung–Russell diagram largely occupied by several related classes of pulsating variable stars:[1] Delta Scuti variables, SX Phoenicis variables, and rapidly oscillating Ap stars (roAps) near the main sequence; RR Lyrae variables where it intersects the horizontal branch; and the Cepheid variables where it crosses the supergiants.

RV Tauri variables are also often considered to lie on the instability strip, occupying the area to the right of the brighter Cepheids (at lower temperatures), since their pulsations are attributed to the same mechanism.

Position on the HR diagram
This HR plot shows 22,000 stars from the Hipparcos Catalogue and 1,000 low-luminosity stars (red and white dwarfs) from the Gliese Catalogue.

The Hertzsprung–Russell diagram plots the real luminosity of stars against their effective temperature (their color, given by the temperature of their photosphere). The instability strip intersects the main sequence, (the prominent diagonal band that runs from the upper left to the lower right) in the region of A and F stars (1–2 solar mass (M☉)) and extends to G and early K bright supergiants (early M if RV Tauri stars at minimum are included). Above the main sequence, the vast majority of stars in the instability strip are variable. Where the instability strip intersects the main sequence, the vast majority of stars are stable, but there are some variables, including the roAp stars.

Stars in the instability strip pulsate due to He III (doubly ionized helium).[1] In normal A-F-G stars He is neutral in the stellar photosphere. Deeper below the photosphere, at about 25,000–30,000K, begins the He II layer (first He ionization). Second ionization (He III) starts at about 35,000–50,000K.

When the star contracts, the density and temperature of the He II layer increases. He II starts to transform into He III (second ionization). This causes the opacity of the star to increase and the energy flux from the interior of the star is effectively absorbed. The temperature of the star rises and it begins to expand. After expansion, He III begins to recombine into He II and the opacity of the star drops. This lowers the surface temperature of the star. The outer layers contract and the cycle starts from the beginning.

The phase shift between a star's radial pulsations and brightness variations depends on the distance of He II zone from the stellar surface in the stellar atmosphere. For most Cepheids, this creates a distinctly asymmetrical observed light curve, rising rapidly to maximum and falling slowly back down to minimum.
Other pulsating stars

There are several types of pulsating star not found on the instability strip and with pulsations driven by different mechanisms. At cooler temperatures are the long period variable AGB stars. At hotter temperatures are the Beta Cephei and PV Telescopii, variables. Right at the edge of the instability strip near the main sequence are Gamma Doradus variables. The band of White dwarfs has three separate regions types of variable: DOV, DBV, and DAV (= ZZ Ceti variables) white dwarfs. Each of these types of pulsating variable has an associated instability strip[2][3][4] created by variable opacity partial ionisation regions other than helium.[1]

Most high luminosity supergiants are somewhat variable, including the Alpha Cygni variables. In the specific region of more luminous stars above the instability strip are found the yellow hypergiants which have irregular pulsations and eruptions. The hotter luminous blue variables may be related and show similar short- and long-term spectral and brightness variations with irregular eruptions.

Gautschy, A.; Saio, H. (1996). "Stellar Pulsations Across the HR Diagram: Part 2". Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics. 34: 551. Bibcode:1996ARA&A..34..551G. doi:10.1146/annurev.astro.34.1.551.
Beauchamp, A.; Wesemael, F.; Bergeron, P.; Fontaine, G.; Saffer, R. A.; Liebert, J.; Brassard, P. (1999). "Spectroscopic Studies of DB White Dwarfs: The Instability Strip of the Pulsating DB (V777 Herculis) Stars". The Astrophysical Journal. 516 (2): 887. Bibcode:1999ApJ...516..887B. doi:10.1086/307148.
Starrfield, S. G.; Cox, A. N.; Hodson, S. W.; Pesnell, W. D. (1983). "The discovery of nonradial instability strips for hot, evolved stars". The Astrophysical Journal. 268: L27. Bibcode:1983ApJ...268L..27S. doi:10.1086/184023.

Dupret, M. -A.; Grigahcène, A.; Garrido, R.; Gabriel, M.; Scuflaire, R. (2004). "Theoretical instability strips for δ Scuti and γ Doradus stars". Astronomy and Astrophysics. 414 (2): L17. Bibcode:2004A&A...414L..17D. doi:10.1051/0004-6361:20031740.



Accretion Molecular cloud Bok globule Young stellar object
Protostar Pre-main-sequence Herbig Ae/Be T Tauri FU Orionis Herbig–Haro object Hayashi track Henyey track


Main sequence Red-giant branch Horizontal branch
Red clump Asymptotic giant branch
super-AGB Blue loop Protoplanetary nebula Planetary nebula PG1159 Dredge-up OH/IR Instability strip Luminous blue variable Blue straggler Stellar population Supernova Superluminous supernova / Hypernova

Spectral classification

Early Late Main sequence
O B A F G K M Brown dwarf WR OB Subdwarf
O B Subgiant Giant
Blue Red Yellow Bright giant Supergiant
Blue Red Yellow Hypergiant
Yellow Carbon
S CN CH White dwarf Chemically peculiar
Am Ap/Bp HgMn Helium-weak Barium Extreme helium Lambda Boötis Lead Technetium Be
Shell B[e]


White dwarf
Helium planet Black dwarf Neutron
Radio-quiet Pulsar
Binary X-ray Magnetar Stellar black hole X-ray binary


Blue dwarf Green Black dwarf Exotic
Boson Electroweak Strange Preon Planck Dark Dark-energy Quark Q Black Gravastar Frozen Quasi-star Thorne–Żytkow object Iron Blitzar

Stellar nucleosynthesis

Deuterium burning Lithium burning Proton–proton chain CNO cycle Helium flash Triple-alpha process Alpha process Carbon burning Neon burning Oxygen burning Silicon burning S-process R-process Fusor Nova
Symbiotic Remnant Luminous red nova


Core Convection zone
Microturbulence Oscillations Radiation zone Atmosphere
Photosphere Starspot Chromosphere Stellar corona Stellar wind
Bubble Bipolar outflow Accretion disk Asteroseismology
Helioseismology Eddington luminosity Kelvin–Helmholtz mechanism


Designation Dynamics Effective temperature Luminosity Kinematics Magnetic field Absolute magnitude Mass Metallicity Rotation Starlight Variable Photometric system Color index Hertzsprung–Russell diagram Color–color diagram

Star systems

Contact Common envelope Eclipsing Symbiotic Multiple Cluster
Open Globular Super Planetary system


Solar System Sunlight Pole star Circumpolar Constellation Asterism Magnitude
Apparent Extinction Photographic Radial velocity Proper motion Parallax Photometric-standard


Proper names
Arabic Chinese Extremes Most massive Highest temperature Lowest temperature Largest volume Smallest volume Brightest
Historical Most luminous Nearest
Nearest bright With exoplanets Brown dwarfs White dwarfs Milky Way novae Supernovae
Candidates Remnants Planetary nebulae Timeline of stellar astronomy

Related articles

Substellar object
Brown dwarf Sub-brown dwarf Planet Galactic year Galaxy Guest Gravity Intergalactic Planet-hosting stars Tidal disruption event

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