Wikipedia:Today's featured article/June 25, 2009

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Image of Sirius A and Sirius B taken by the Hubble Space Telescope

A white dwarf is a small star composed mostly of electron-degenerate matter. Because a white dwarf's mass is comparable to that of the Sun and its volume is comparable to that of the Earth, it is very dense. Their faint luminosity comes from the emission of stored heat. They comprise roughly 6% of all known stars in the solar neighborhood. The unusual faintness of white dwarfs was first recognized in 1910 by Henry Norris Russell, Edward Charles Pickering and Williamina Fleming. White dwarfs are thought to be the final evolutionary state of all stars whose mass is not too high. The material in a white dwarf no longer undergoes fusion reactions, so the star has no source of energy, nor is it supported against gravitational collapse by the heat generated by fusion. It is supported only by electron degeneracy pressure, causing it to be extremely dense. The physics of degeneracy yields a maximum mass for a nonrotating white dwarf, the Chandrasekhar limit—approximately 1.4 solar masses—beyond which it cannot be supported by degeneracy pressure. Over a very long time, a white dwarf will cool to temperatures at which it will no longer be visible, and become a cold black dwarf. (more...)

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