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Illustrated Guide to Astronomy

White Dwarf Star


A white dwarf is a hot, dead, and dense star. This is the last stage in a star’s life before the black dwarf phase. The white light from the dead star comes from the thermal energy it emits.

White Dwarf
White Dwarf

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White Dwarf Star

At the end of a star’s life, when the outer shells have been been ejected, all that is left is the core. A white dwarf is a hot, dense core of a dead star. Due to its heat, it will glow white for millions or billions of years before becoming a black dwarf. A white dwarf is a dead star, which means there are no nuclear fusion reactions occurring. They do emit light, however they are a lot dimmer than the previous stages in a stars life cycle. The luminosity of white dwarfs comes from the thermal energy it emits.

The term "white dwarf" was first used by Dutch-American Scientist Willem Luyten and refers to their size and color. A white dwarf can typically have a mass half the of that of the sun, but be the size of the earth. This large mass, which is squeezed into small space, results in white dwarfs have a very high density--only neutron stars and black holes are denser.

White dwarves occur at the end of a star’s life when the star has a similar mass to our Sun. Stars that are much bigger than our Sun have a much more dramatic end to their lives. After a supernova, stars will either become a neutron star or a black hole (if they are very massive).

Stages in a Star’s Life Cycle

(a star with a similar mass to our Sun)

  1. Stellar Nebula

  2. Main Sequence Star

  3. Red Giant Star

  4. Planetary nebula

  5. White Dwarf

  6. Black dwarf
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