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How well do we measure the radii of white dwarfs?

17 Jul 2017, 13:45 UTC
How well do we measure the radii of white dwarfs? NASA/ESA/K. Sahu (STScI)

Look outside your window. Can you see the Sun? If it’s night-time, just pick a random star instead. Our Sun one day will become a white dwarf star, and the chance that the random star you’ve picked will follow the same path is over 95%. White dwarfs are by far the most common final evolutionary state for a star. The famous supernovas actually only occur when a star is massive enough to burn elements heavier than helium in its core, and that is usually not the case. What happens instead is that the star can only produce elements up to carbon and oxygen, and then nuclear reactions in the core cease to occur. With no release of energy to counteract the gravitational force, the carbon-oxygen core will contract more and more until it becomes degenerate. This degenerate core is essentially the white dwarf, which becomes visible when the outer layers of the star are ejected on its final breadth of hydrogen burning in outer shells.

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