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Answered 2015-05-06 20:29:34

When the star becomes a "Red giant" is when the helium flash occurs.

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The helium flash only last for a couple of minutes.


As a G-type star fuses its hydrogen to helium, this helium will gather in the core. As a result, the core will contract under its own weight as hydrogen is being spent. The contraction causes an increased hydrogen fusion rate, increasing the temperature. When insufficient hydrogen remains in the core, the layers above are no longer supported by the outward pressure of radiation, and collapse on top of the core, causing it to contract further, and also initiating hydrogen fusion outside the core. At this point, the star leaves the main sequence, and becomes a red giant. At this stage, the core of the giant may reach critical density for helium fusion to initiate. Since the core is composed of mostly degenerate matter at this stage, there is no regulation of the fusion rate. Also, degenerate matter is less opaque to the energies produced than non-degenerate matter, so conducts them better.Ehr, to summarize: the helium flash occurs during the red giant stage of G-type stars.


Some stars do not develop degenerate helium cores.


The helium flash itself will take a few seconds; after that, the core of the star expands and cools down somewhat, and the star will continue burning helium in a normal (non-explosive) manner.


A helium flash occurs because the core of the star is in what is known as a "degenerate" state. This means that the core has contracted so much that the pressure of the electron shells of the atoms making up the core prevent the core from contracting further. Under normal gas conditions (i.e. NOT a degenerate state), an increase in the temperature of the core would cause an increase in core pressure resulting in the core expanding and the temperature then dropping. This state is known as hydrostatic equilibrium. With a degenerate core, the temperature increases but the pressure doesn't. This extra energy ignites the helium creating run-away nuclear reactions. This is what is referred to as a "helium flash."


The core quickly heats up and expands.


the core quickly heats up and expands


The luminosity of a low mass star goes down after helium flash. The sudden onset of helium fusion stops core shrinkage and the low-mass star will become smaller, and less luminous than it was as a red giant.



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A low-mass star never gets hot enough in the core to fuse helium into carbon.


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Stars leave the red giant branch when the temperature of the core reaches about 100 millionoK and helium fusion in the core begins. The star is now on the horizontal branch. In smaller stars - this is known as helium flash. [See related question]


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