(Submitted May 26, 2010)
During stellar evolution, for small and medium stars (until 8-10 solar),
during the white dwarf formation process, the star doesn't have enough mass
to increase the core temperature to start carbon fusion. After the white dwarf
formation process, the core matter is in a degenerate state. But in huge
stars, the mass is high enough to allow the core to reach a higher temperature,
starting carbon fusion, and forming other chemical elements (until iron
formation, when a supernova is born). For large stars, the core is not under
a degenerate state (I suppose, because the carbon burning is not a runway
So, why in the white dwarf formation process does the core matter reach a
degenerate state, but it doesn't in huge mass stars? Is it because in large
mass stars the carbon fusion occurs in a plasma state core?
For a stellar core to be in a degenerate state, the density has to be
extremely high, and the temperature cannot be too high. If the core
exceeds a certain critical temperature (which also depends on the
chemical composition), it cannot become or remain degenerate.
Now, the cores of more massive stars have higher temperatures,
because you need higher thermal pressure to balance the gravity
of all the matters above. When you work out the numbers, it turns
out that the cores of massive stars (more than 8 times the mass
of the Sun) are always hot enough not to become degenerate.
For somewhat more details, check out:
Hope this helps,
Koji & Georgia
for "Ask an Astrophysicist"