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Dead — but not duds

White dwarfs shed light on physics and the fate of the cosmos

2:25pm, September 26, 2008

Amid the liveliest stars in the cosmos lie stellar corpses. Of these dead stars, the most abundant are white dwarfs — stars that in their prime were similar to the sun. These dense corpses foreshadow what will become of most of the stars in the universe.

Although white dwarfs are dead, they aren’t useless. Postmortem examination shows they have different masses and different chemical makeups. Some are strongly magnetic. Others pulsate. A few even have orbiting planets and debris disks. “Understanding why these cadavers are all different might help us understand the lives of normal stars,” says Patrick Dufour, an astronomer at the University of Arizona in Tucson. “And although we think we know

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