(Submitted October 02, 1997)
black dwarfs and neutron stars similar?
A 'black dwarf' is a white dwarf that has cooled down enough that it no
longer emits light. See the Imagine the Universe science pages
for the differences between white dwarfs,
neutron stars, and black holes.
A white dwarf is formed when a star has burned all of its original hydrogen
and helium fuel to elements such as carbon, nitrogen and oxygen. If the
star doesn't have enough mass, the pressure at its center is too low to
burn these elements further, and so it no longer produces heat. It is,
however, still hot from the earlier burning stages, so it still glows for a
while until it cools down. It takes tens to hundreds of billions of years
for it to cool down entirely, and the Universe hasn't been around that
long--the oldest stars are between 10 and 20 billion years old. Therefore
there are no black dwarfs yet, but there will be in the future.
for Ask an Astrophysicist