Black dwarf

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Stellar evolution. Star Life Cycle Chart.jpg
Stellar evolution.

A black dwarf is a theoretical stellar remnant, specifically a white dwarf that has cooled sufficiently that it no longer emits significant heat or light. Because the time required for a white dwarf to reach this state is calculated to be longer than the current age of the universe (13.8 billion years), no black dwarfs are expected to exist in the universe now, and the temperature of the coolest white dwarfs is one observational limit on the age of the universe. [1]

White dwarf Type of stellar remnant composed mostly of electron-degenerate matter

A white dwarf, also called a degenerate dwarf, is a stellar core remnant composed mostly of electron-degenerate matter. A white dwarf is very dense: its mass is comparable to that of the Sun, while its volume is comparable to that of Earth. A white dwarf's faint luminosity comes from the emission of stored thermal energy; no fusion takes place in a white dwarf. The nearest known white dwarf is Sirius B, at 8.6 light years, the smaller component of the Sirius binary star. There are currently thought to be eight white dwarfs among the hundred star systems nearest the Sun. The unusual faintness of white dwarfs was first recognized in 1910. The name white dwarf was coined by Willem Luyten in 1922.

Heat energy transfer process, or its amount (and direction), that is associated with a temperature difference

In thermodynamics, heat is energy in transfer to or from a thermodynamic system, by mechanisms other than thermodynamic work or transfer of matter. The mechanisms include conduction, through direct contact of immobile bodies, or through a wall or barrier that is impermeable to matter; or radiation between separated bodies; or isochoric mechanical work done by the surroundings on the system of interest; or Joule heating by an electric current driven through the system of interest by an external system; or a combination of these. When there is a suitable path between two systems with different temperatures, heat transfer occurs necessarily, immediately, and spontaneously from the hotter to the colder system. Thermal conduction occurs by the stochastic (random) motion of microscopic particles. In contrast, thermodynamic work is defined by mechanisms that act macroscopically and directly on the system's whole-body state variables; for example, change of the system's volume through a piston's motion with externally measurable force; or change of the system's internal electric polarization through an externally measurable change in electric field. The definition of heat transfer does not require that the process be in any sense smooth. For example, a bolt of lightning may transfer heat to a body.

Light electromagnetic radiation in or near visible spectrum

Light is electromagnetic radiation within a certain portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. The word usually refers to visible light, which is the visible spectrum that is visible to the human eye and is responsible for the sense of sight. Visible light is usually defined as having wavelengths in the range of 400–700 nanometres (nm), or 4.00 × 10−7 to 7.00 × 10−7 m, between the infrared and the ultraviolet. This wavelength means a frequency range of roughly 430–750 terahertz (THz).


The name "black dwarf" has also been applied to substellar objects that do not have sufficient mass, less than approximately 0.08 M, to maintain hydrogen-burning nuclear fusion. [2] [3] These objects are now generally called brown dwarfs, a term coined in the 1970s. [4] [5] Black dwarfs should not be confused with black holes or black stars.

Substellar object astronomical object whose mass is smaller than the smallest mass at which a star can sustain hydrogen fusion

A substellar object, sometimes called a substar, is an astronomical object whose mass is smaller than the smallest mass at which hydrogen fusion can be sustained. This definition includes brown dwarfs and former stars similar to EF Eridani B, and can also include objects of planetary mass, regardless of their formation mechanism and whether or not they are associated with a primary star.

Solar mass Standard unit of mass in astronomy

The solar mass (M) is a standard unit of mass in astronomy, equal to approximately 2×1030 kg. It is used to indicate the masses of other stars, as well as clusters, nebulae, and galaxies. It is equal to the mass of the Sun (denoted by the solar symbol ⊙︎). This equates to about two nonillion (short scale) or two quintillion (long scale) kilograms:

Hydrogen Chemical element with atomic number 1

Hydrogen is the chemical element with the symbol H and atomic number 1. With a standard atomic weight of 1.008, hydrogen is the lightest element in the periodic table. Hydrogen is the most abundant chemical substance in the Universe, constituting roughly 75% of all baryonic mass. Non-remnant stars are mainly composed of hydrogen in the plasma state. The most common isotope of hydrogen, termed protium, has one proton and no neutrons.


A white dwarf is what remains of a main-sequence star of low or medium mass (below approximately 9 to 10 solar masses (M)) after it has either expelled or fused all the elements for which it has sufficient temperature to fuse. [1] What is left is then a dense sphere of electron-degenerate matter that cools slowly by thermal radiation, eventually becoming a black dwarf. [6] [7] If black dwarfs were to exist, they would be extremely difficult to detect, because, by definition, they would emit very little radiation. They would, however, be detectable through their gravitational influence. [8] Various white dwarfs cooled below 3900 K (M0 spectral class) were found in 2012 by astronomers using MDM Observatory's 2.4-meter telescope. They are estimated to be 11 to 12 billion years old. [9]

Main sequence A continuous band of stars that appears on plots of stellar color versus brightness

In astronomy, the main sequence is a continuous and distinctive band of stars that appears on plots of stellar color versus brightness. These color-magnitude plots are known as Hertzsprung–Russell diagrams after their co-developers, Ejnar Hertzsprung and Henry Norris Russell. Stars on this band are known as main-sequence stars or dwarf stars. These are the most numerous true stars in the universe, and include the Earth's Sun.

Nuclear fusion process where atomic nuclei combine and release energy

In nuclear physics and nuclear chemistry, nuclear fusion is a reaction in which two or more atomic nuclei are combined to form one or more different atomic nuclei and subatomic particles. The difference in mass between the reactants and products is manifested as either the release or absorption of energy. This difference in mass arises due to the difference in atomic "binding energy" between the atomic nuclei before and after the reaction. Fusion is the process that powers active or "main sequence" stars, or other high magnitude stars.

Chemical element a species of atoms having the same number of protons in the atomic nucleus

A chemical element is a species of atom having the same number of protons in their atomic nuclei. For example, the atomic number of oxygen is 8, so the element oxygen consists of all atoms which have 8 protons.

Because the far-future evolution of stars depends on physical questions which are poorly understood, such as the nature of dark matter and the possibility and rate of proton decay, it is not known precisely how long it will take white dwarfs to cool to blackness. [10] , § IIIE, IVA. Barrow and Tipler estimate that it would take 1015 years for a white dwarf to cool to 5 K; [11] however, if weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPs) exist, it is possible that interactions with these particles will keep some white dwarfs much warmer than this for approximately 1025 years. [10] , § IIIE. If protons are not stable, white dwarfs will also be kept warm by energy released from proton decay. For a hypothetical proton lifetime of 1037 years, Adams and Laughlin calculate that proton decay will raise the effective surface temperature of an old one-solar-mass white dwarf to approximately 0.06 K. Although cold, this is thought to be hotter than the cosmic background radiation temperature 1037 years in the future. [10] , §IVB.

Dark matter Hypothetical form of matter comprising most of the matter in the universe

Dark matter is a form of matter thought to account for approximately 85% of the matter in the universe and about a quarter of its total energy density. The majority of dark matter is thought to be non-baryonic in nature, possibly being composed of some as-yet undiscovered subatomic particles. Its presence is implied in a variety of astrophysical observations, including gravitational effects which cannot be explained by accepted theories of gravity unless more matter is present than can be seen. For this reason, most experts think dark matter to be abundant in the universe and to have had a strong influence on its structure and evolution. Dark matter is called dark because it does not appear to interact with observable electromagnetic radiation, such as light, and is thus invisible to the entire electromagnetic spectrum, making it undetectable using existing astronomical instruments.

Proton decay hypothetical decay process of a nucleon (proton or neutron) into non-nucleons (anything else)

In particle physics, proton decay is a hypothetical form of particle decay in which the proton decays into lighter subatomic particles, such as a neutral pion and a positron. The proton decay hypothesis was first formulated by Andrei Sakharov in 1967. Despite significant experimental effort, proton decay has never been observed. If it does decay via a positron, the proton's half-life is constrained to be at least 1.67×1034 years.

Weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPs) are hypothetical particles that are thought to constitute dark matter. There exists no clear definition of a WIMP, but broadly, a WIMP is a new elementary particle which interacts via gravity and any other force, potentially not part of the standard model itself, which is as weak as or weaker than the weak nuclear force, but also non-vanishing in its strength. A WIMP must also have been produced thermally in the early Universe, similarly to the particles of the standard model according to Big Bang cosmology, and usually will constitute cold dark matter. Obtaining the correct abundance of dark matter today via thermal production requires a self-annihilation cross section of , which is roughly what is expected for a new particle in the 100 GeV mass range that interacts via the electroweak force. Because supersymmetric extensions of the standard model of particle physics readily predict a new particle with these properties, this apparent coincidence is known as the "WIMP miracle", and a stable supersymmetric partner has long been a prime WIMP candidate. However, recent null results from direct-detection experiments along with the failure to produce evidence of supersymmetry in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) experiment has cast doubt on the simplest WIMP hypothesis. Experimental efforts to detect WIMPs include the search for products of WIMP annihilation, including gamma rays, neutrinos and cosmic rays in nearby galaxies and galaxy clusters; direct detection experiments designed to measure the collision of WIMPs with nuclei in the laboratory, as well as attempts to directly produce WIMPs in colliders, such as the LHC.

Future of the Sun

Once the Sun stops fusing helium in its core and ejects its layers in a planetary nebula in about 8 billion years, it will become a white dwarf and, over trillions of years time, eventually will no longer emit any light. After that, the Sun will not be visible to the equivalent of the naked human eye, removing it from optical view even if the gravitational effects are evident. The estimated time for the Sun to cool enough to become a black dwarf is about 1015 (1 quadrillion) years, though it could take much longer than this, if weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPs) exist, as described above.

Sun Star at the center of the Solar System

The Sun is the star at the center of the Solar System. It is a nearly perfect sphere of hot plasma, with internal convective motion that generates a magnetic field via a dynamo process. It is by far the most important source of energy for life on Earth. Its diameter is about 1.39 million kilometers, or 109 times that of Earth, and its mass is about 330,000 times that of Earth. It accounts for about 99.86% of the total mass of the Solar System. Roughly three quarters of the Sun's mass consists of hydrogen (~73%); the rest is mostly helium (~25%), with much smaller quantities of heavier elements, including oxygen, carbon, neon, and iron.

Planetary nebula Type of emission nebula

A planetary nebula, abbreviated as PN or plural PNe, is a type of emission nebula consisting of an expanding, glowing shell of ionized gas ejected from red giant stars late in their lives.

Naked eye Human vision, unaided by optical instruments

Naked eye, also called bare eye or unaided eye, is the practice of engaging in visual perception unaided by a magnifying or light-collecting optical instrument, such as a telescope or microscope. Vision corrected to normal acuity using corrective lenses is still considered "naked".

See also

Degenerate matter is a highly dense state of fermionic matter in which particles must occupy high states of kinetic energy to satisfy the Pauli exclusion principle. The description applies to matter composed of electrons, protons, neutrons or other fermions. The term is mainly used in astrophysics to refer to dense stellar objects where gravitational pressure is so extreme that quantum mechanical effects are significant. This type of matter is naturally found in stars in their final evolutionary states, like white dwarfs and neutron stars, where thermal pressure alone is not enough to avoid gravitational collapse.

Heat death of the universe A possible end of the universe

The heat death of the universe, also known as the Big Chill or Big Freeze, is a conjecture on the ultimate fate of the universe, which suggests the universe would evolve to a state of no thermodynamic free energy and would therefore be unable to sustain processes that increase entropy. Heat death does not imply any particular absolute temperature; it only requires that temperature differences or other processes may no longer be exploited to perform work. In the language of physics, this is when the universe reaches thermodynamic equilibrium.

Related Research Articles

Big Bang The prevailing cosmological model for the observable universe

The Big Bang theory is the prevailing cosmological model for the observable universe from the earliest known periods through its subsequent large-scale evolution. The model describes how the universe expanded from a very high-density and high-temperature state, and offers a comprehensive explanation for a broad range of phenomena, including the abundance of light elements, the cosmic microwave background (CMB), large-scale structure and Hubble's law. If the observed conditions are extrapolated backwards in time using the known laws of physics, the prediction is that just before a period of very high density there was a singularity which is typically associated with the Big Bang. Current knowledge is insufficient to determine if the singularity was primordial.

Nuclear physics field of physics that deals with the structure and behavior of atomic nuclei

Nuclear physics is the field of physics that studies atomic nuclei and their constituents and interactions. Other forms of nuclear matter are also studied. Nuclear physics should not be confused with atomic physics, which studies the atom as a whole, including its electrons.

Neutrino Elementary particle with extremely low mass that interacts only via the weak force and gravity

A neutrino is a fermion that interacts only via the weak subatomic force and gravity. The neutrino is so named because it is electrically neutral and because its rest mass is so small (-ino) that it was long thought to be zero. The mass of the neutrino is much smaller than that of the other known elementary particles. The weak force has a very short range, the gravitational interaction is extremely weak, and neutrinos, as leptons, do not participate in the strong interaction. Thus, neutrinos typically pass through normal matter unimpeded and undetected.

Stellar evolution Changes to a star over its lifespan

Stellar evolution is the process by which a star changes over the course of time. Depending on the mass of the star, its lifetime can range from a few million years for the most massive to trillions of years for the least massive, which is considerably longer than the age of the universe. The table shows the lifetimes of stars as a function of their masses. All stars are born from collapsing clouds of gas and dust, often called nebulae or molecular clouds. Over the course of millions of years, these protostars settle down into a state of equilibrium, becoming what is known as a main-sequence star.

Big Bang nucleosynthesis The earliest production of nuclei other than those of the lightest isotope of hydrogen during the early phases of the Universe

In physical cosmology, Big Bang nucleosynthesis refers to the production of nuclei other than those of the lightest isotope of hydrogen during the early phases of the Universe. Primordial nucleosynthesis is believed by most cosmologists to have taken place in the interval from roughly 10 seconds to 20 minutes after the Big Bang, and is calculated to be responsible for the formation of most of the universe's helium as the isotope helium-4 (4He), along with small amounts of the hydrogen isotope deuterium, the helium isotope helium-3 (3He), and a very small amount of the lithium isotope lithium-7 (7Li). In addition to these stable nuclei, two unstable or radioactive isotopes were also produced: the heavy hydrogen isotope tritium ; and the beryllium isotope beryllium-7 (7Be); but these unstable isotopes later decayed into 3He and 7Li, as above.

Brown dwarf Type of substellar object larger than a gas giant

A brown dwarf is a type of substellar object occupying the mass range between the heaviest gas giant planets and the lightest stars, having a mass between approximately 13 to 75–80 times that of Jupiter (MJ), or approximately 2.5×1028 kg to about 1.5×1029 kg. Below this range are the sub-brown dwarfs (sometimes referred to as rogue planets), and above it are the lightest red dwarfs. Brown dwarfs may be fully convective, with no layers or chemical differentiation by depth.

Timeline of epochs in cosmology Universe events since the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago

The timeline of cosmological epochs outlines the formation and subsequent evolution of the Universe from the Big Bang to the present day. An epoch is a moment in time from which nature or situations change to such a degree that it marks the beginning of a new era or age.

In cosmology and physics, cold dark matter (CDM) is a hypothetical type of dark matter. Observations indicate that approximately 85% of the matter in the universe is dark matter, with only a small fraction being the ordinary baryonic matter that composes stars, planets, and living organisms. Cold refers to the fact that the dark matter moves slowly compared to the speed of light, while dark indicates that it interacts very weakly with ordinary matter and electromagnetic radiation.

In astronomy, the term compact star refers collectively to white dwarfs, neutron stars, and black holes. It would grow to include exotic stars if such hypothetical, dense bodies are confirmed to exist. All compact objects have a high mass relative to their radius, giving them a very high density, compared to ordinary atomic matter.

Baryonic dark matter

In astronomy and cosmology, baryonic dark matter is dark matter composed of baryons. Only a small proportion of the dark matter in the universe is likely to be baryonic.

In astroparticle physics, an ultra-high-energy cosmic ray (UHECR) is a cosmic ray with an energy greater than 1 EeV (1018 electronvolts, approximately 0.16 joules), far beyond both the rest mass and energies typical of other cosmic ray particles.

Structure formation The formation of galaxies, galaxy clusters and larger structures from small early density fluctuations

In physical cosmology, structure formation is the formation of galaxies, galaxy clusters and larger structures from small early density fluctuations. The universe, as is now known from observations of the cosmic microwave background radiation, began in a hot, dense, nearly uniform state approximately 13.8 billion years ago. However, looking in the sky today, we see structures on all scales, from stars and planets to galaxies and, on still larger scales, galaxy clusters and sheet-like structures of galaxies separated by enormous voids containing few galaxies. Structure formation attempts to model how these structures formed by gravitational instability of small early density ripples.

WD 0137-349 is a binary star in the constellation of Sculptor. It is located about 330 light-years away, and appears exceedingly faint with an apparent magnitude of 15.33.

Future of an expanding universe Future scenario assuming that the expansion of the universe will continue forever

Observations suggest that the expansion of the universe will continue forever. If so, then a popular theory is that the universe will cool as it expands, eventually becoming too cold to sustain life. For this reason, this future scenario once popularly called "Heat Death" is now known as the Big Chill or Big Freeze.

Chronology of the universe Universe events since the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago

The chronology of the universe describes the history and future of the universe according to Big Bang cosmology. The earliest stages of the universe's existence are estimated as taking place 13.8 billion years ago, with an uncertainty of around 21 million years at the 68% confidence level.

Astrophysical X-ray source astronomical object emitting X-rays

Astrophysical X-ray sources are astronomical objects with physical properties which result in the emission of X-rays.

Ultra-cool dwarf type of stellar or sub-stellar object

An ultra-cool dwarf is a stellar or sub-stellar object of spectral class M that has an effective temperature under 2,700 K. TRAPPIST-1 is a widely known example of an ultra-cool dwarf star.


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