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FEATURE ARTICLE

White Dwarf Stars

The remnants of Sun-like stars, white dwarfs offer clues to the identity of dark matter and the age of our Galaxy

Steven Kawaler, Michael Dahlstrom

Figure 2. White dwarf varieties are definedClick to Enlarge Image

A white dwarf is a very dense star: The earth-sized remains of a Sun-like star that has burned all of its nuclear fuel. Although it's unable to carry out the workaday activities of a living star, a white dwarf is still an interesting object to astronomers. For one thing, white dwarfs experience "starquakes"—gentle pulsations that allow astronomers to deduce certain physical qualities of the star, such as its mass, rate of rotation, its structure and the strength of its magnetic field. The authors have been studying the starquakes with a global network of instruments, collectively called the Whole Earth Telescope, which provide around-the-clock observations of a white dwarf's seismic activity. Kawaler and Dahlstrom discuss what we know about white dwarfs and their significance for questions concerning the age of our Galaxy and the composition of dark matter.


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