White dwarf

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White dwarf stars.

A white dwarf is a kind of star. The colour of a white dwarf is like most other stars, but not as bright. White Dwarfs were discovered in the 19th century, and the first ones found were white. The colour of a star can tell us how hot it is, white stars are like the Sun, blue stars are hotter, and red stars are cooler. White dwarfs are not very bright because they are smaller than many brighter stars - not because they are cold. Some white dwarfs are blue, instead of white, even though they share the same name.

Many white dwarfs are about the same size as the Earth, and about 100 times smaller than the Sun. They may weigh the same as the Sun, which would make them very dense. The heavier the white dwarf is, then the smaller it will be.

A star like our Sun will become a white dwarf when it has run out of fuel. Near the end of its life, it will go through a red giant stage, and then lose most of its gas, until what is left settles down and becomes a young white dwarf.

White dwarf stars are extremely hot, so they emit bright white light. A white dwarf's heat comes from the star's collapse. Because white dwarfs are extremely small, it takes them a long time to cool down. Eventually, all white dwarfs will cool down into black dwarfs, so called because they lack the energy to create light. No black dwarfs exist yet because it takes longer than the current age of the universe for a white dwarf to cool down. A black dwarf is what will be left of the star after all of its energy (heat and light) is used up.

History[change | change source]

The first white dwarf star, called 40 Eridani B, was discovered on January 31, 1783, by William Herschel.[1], p. 73 It is part of a three star system called 40 Eridani.

The second white dwarf was discovered in 1862 by Alvan Graham Clark. He discovered a small star near the star Sirius. This companion star, called Sirius B, had a surface temperature of about 25,000 kelvin, so it was thought of as a hot star. However, Sirius B was about 10,000 times fainter than the primary, Sirius A. Scientists have discovered that the mass of Sirius B is almost the same as that of the Sun. This means that once, Sirius B may have been a star very similar to our own sun.

In 1917, Adriaan Van Maanen discovered a white dwarf which is called Van Maanen's Star. It was the third white dwarf to be discovered. It is the closest white dwarf to Earth, except for Sirius B.

References[change | change source]

  1. Catalogue of Double Stars, William Herschel, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 75 (1785), pp. 40–126