Red Giant Diagram

A red giant is a star that has exhausted the supply of hydrogen in its core and has begun thermonuclear fusion of hydrogen in a shell surrounding the core. They have radii tens to hundreds of times larger than that of the Sun. However, their outer envelope is lower in temperature, giving them a reddish-orange hue. Despite the lower energy density of their envelope, red giants are many times more luminous than the Sun because of their great size. Red-giant-branch stars have luminosities up to nearly three thousand times that of the Sun (L☉), spectral types of K or M, have surface temperatures of 3,000–4,000 K, and radii up to about 200 times the Sun (R☉). Stars on the horizontal branch are hotter, with only a small range of luminosities around 75 L☉. Asymptotic-giant-branch stars range from similar luminosities as the brighter stars of the red giant branch, up to several times more luminous at the end of the thermal pulsing phase.

This gigantic "King of Planets" is considered by some astronomers to be a "failed star". It is about as large as a gas giant planet can be, and still be a planet. It is composed of approximately 90% hydrogen and 10% helium, with small amounts of water, methane, ammonia, and rocky grains mixed into the brew. If any more material were added on to this immense planet, gravity would hug it tightly--while its entire radius would barely increase. A baby star can grow to be much larger than Jupiter. However, a true star harbors its own sparkling internal source of heat--and Jupiter would have to grow at least 80 times more massive for its furnace to catch fire. Cassini's successful mission of exploration to the Saturn system is over, but planetary scientists are left with a cornucopia filled with important new information that Cassini/Huygens sent back to Earth before its mission ended. A collaborative NASA/European Space Agency/Italian Space Agency mission, the robotic spacecraft was made up of two components. The first was the European Space Agency's (ESA's) Huygens Probe, that had been named in honor of the Dutch mathematician and astronomer Christiaan Huygens (1629-1695), who discovered Titan. The Huygens Probe also closely observed Saturn's lovely system of gossamer rings. The second component, the NASA-designed Cassini Orbiter, was named after the Italian-French astronomer Giovanni Dominico Cassini (1625-1712), who discovered four of Saturn's other intriguing, numerous, and icy moons. There are over 100 moons dancing around the eight major planets of our Sun's family. Most of them are small, frozen, icy objects, harboring only a relatively scanty amount of rocky material, that circle around the quartet of giant gaseous planets that dwell in the outer, frigid realm of our Solar System--far from the comforting warmth and brilliance of our Star. The quartet of majestic, giant denizens of our outer Solar System--Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune--are enveloped with gaseous atmospheres, and orbited by a multitude of dancing, sparkling moons and moonlets. In marked contrast, the inner region of our Solar System--where our Earth dwells--is almost bereft of moons. Of the quartet of relatively petite, rocky "terrestrial" planets--Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars--only Earth is circled by a large Moon. Mercury and Venus are moonless, and Mars is orbited by a duo of tiny, lumpy, potato-shaped moons, Phobos and Deimos. Phobos and Deimos are probably escaped asteroids, born in the Main Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter, that were captured by the gravitational embrace of the Red Planet long ago.