The White Dwarfs
White dwarfs are thought to be the final evolutionary state of all stars whose mass is not high enough to become a neutron star—over 97% of the stars in the Milky Way, §1. After the hydrogen–fusing lifetime of a main-sequence star of low or medium mass ends, it will expand to a red giant which fuses helium to carbon and oxygen in its core by the triple-alpha process. If a red giant has insufficient mass to generate the core temperatures required to fuse carbon, around 1 billion K, an inert mass of carbon and oxygen will build up at its center. After shedding its outer layers to form a planetary nebula, it will leave behind this core, which forms the remnant white dwarf. Usually, therefore, white dwarfs are composed of carbon and oxygen. If the mass of the progenitor is between 8 and 10.5 solar masses, the core temperature is sufficient to fuse carbon but not neon, in which case an oxygen-neon–magnesium white dwarf may be formed. Also, some helium white dwarfs appear to have been formed by mass loss in binary systems.
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