How long can a star stay a protostar?
A protostar is the second stage in the formation of a star. From a big cloud of gas it becomes a closely grouped mass of gas around 0.8 solar mass that begins to have its own defined gravity. However, if this proves unstable it could explode instead of collapsing due to its gravity. It ends up spewing the gas to its neighbors in the nebula and form other stars in the process.
Answer and Explanation:
A protostar is literally growing by pulling in more mass, trying to get to the point that its gravitational collapse could make it reach a temperature of around 10 million Kelvins in order to sustain nuclear fission. This process would depend on the mass of the star being formed. For an average star like our sun, it would have taken the protostar stage several million years. If the star is larger the time would be lesser. If the protostar is small it will take so much longer. However, if the protostar is really small and there are no more stellar material around it, it might not even become a star. It would be called a brown star, it would just keep on glowing but not quite making the temperature for nuclear fusion to occur.
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Learn more about this topic:
from Intro to Astronomy: Help and ReviewChapter 16 / Lesson 7