Science

Star Tales

Part I – The White Dwarf

About 120 million years ago or so, a small blue star joyfully moved in the vastness of the Cosmos. And this star, in spite of her small size of 5 solar masses, had a degree of vanity that surpassed in size even the biggest of stars. But why?

It is a well-known fact that stars are VERY shiny. The brighter they shine, the higher they are regarded within their own stellar circles. And that just so happened to be the case for our little star. She had an enviable luminosity; one that shone through with great power.

So naturally she became prideful and fearless. So prideful, in fact, that she rarely talked to with other stars beneath her brightness and so fearless that the void of the expanding universe didn’t seem to faze her.

But it must be said that this luminosity wasn’t only of her making. She produced it alongside her older sibling, with whom she shared a strong, loving bond. Because of that, the older star didn’t mind letting her sister take all the credit for their mutual brightness. All she wanted was to keep an eye on her. Ensuring with every gaze that she didn’t move away from their respective orbit.

And that’s how our little star spent millions of days. Just fluttering and twirling around her bigger sister, in a cosmic dance only the two knew the steps to.

But I am afraid that selfish complacency is not eternal. The Universe wastes no time to remind us that sad things must also be experienced in order to live. And our tiny bluish star was not an exception to this universal truth, for she was about to experiment a series of unhappy changes. Many of which would change her in completely new ways… forever.

It all began right after her period of hydrogen fusion. This alteration caused her to change her characteristic blue colour for an intense red. And what a red this one was! For it burned her from the inside out, turning her into an even hotter mass.

At her core, the elements of helium, carbon and oxygen fused to such a degree so as to turn her into a gigantic shocked ball. And shocked she was, because all she was experiencing was brand new to her. She just couldn’t understand why she was undergoing such this spectacle of epic proportions.

Her older sister tried her best to calm our starry friend down. She believed that such an uproar was a product of stress and anxiety. But her attempts were in vain, because nothing seemed capable of reversing what was already under way.

Fortunately, once the now giant dwarf reached the necessary temperature, she began to detach herself from her outer layers, which allowed to have some relief from her suffering. But what she didn’t realise was that this came at a cost.

Slowly but surely, our bright star kept losing herself particle by particle. Her initial mass dissipating by way of cosmic dust, forming in the hubbub a bright and colourful planetary nebula. And that’s how the star existed no more, disappearing into the greatness of the Universe. All that remained of her once great self was a small but luminous centre as white as snow.

And since this was the aspect that she would be remembered by for the rest of her days, she was granted a new name: white dwarf.

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