white dwarf star

white dwarf star

Any of a class of small, faint stars representing the end point of the evolution of stars without enough mass to become neutron stars or black holes. Named for the white colour of the first ones discovered, they actually occur in a variety of colours depending on their temperature. They are extremely dense, typically containing the mass of the Sun within the volume of the Earth. White dwarfs have exhausted all their nuclear fuel and cannot produce heat by nuclear fusion to counteract their own gravity, which compresses the electrons and nuclei of their atoms until they prevent further gravitational contraction. When a white dwarf's reservoir of thermal energy is exhausted (after several billion years), it stops radiating and becomes a cold, inert stellar remnant, sometimes called a black dwarf. White dwarf stars are predicted to have an upper mass limit, known as the Chandrasekhar limit (see Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar), of about 1.4 times the Sun's mass. Dying stars that are more massive undergo a supernova explosion. As members of binary stars, white dwarf stars play an essential role in the outbursts of novas.

This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise.
For the full entry on white dwarf star, visit Britannica.com.

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