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Although they are tiny in size white dwarfs have played a great role in astronomy These compact stars are very different from familiar objects like our sun They also pose a seemingly endless series of puzzles whose solutions provide new insights into many areas of physics and astronomy To unravel a wide variety of phenomena such as cataclysmic variables novae dwarf novae planetary nebulae and some types of supernova we have to understand white dwarfs These stars may even hold clues to one of the most fundamental questions of all- how old is the universe White dwarfs come in a variety of types ranging from hot to luminous to cool and dim Some are among the faintest of all stars but paradoxically their study began with that of Sirius the brightest star in our night sky The Dog star is a slightly scaled-up version of the Sun with about twice the mass and 25 times the luminosity It is an unremarkable object comfortably fusing enough hydrogen into helium in its core to supply the energy radiated from the surface and to provide the thermal pressure needed to balance the inward force of gravity Sirius appears bright to us because it is so close less than 9 light-years away In the last century Sirius attracted the attention of Friedrich W Bessel By carefully measuring the Dog star position from 1834-1844 he found irregularities in its motion across the sky He attributed this behavior to the influence of an unseen companion Despite many efforts the proposed attendant escaped visual detection until 1862 In that year Alvan Graham Clark the 3 telescope maker was testing the objective lens of a new 185-inch refractor when he unexpectedly spotted the elusive companion now known as Sirius B or the Pup Today it is clear why the detection was so long delayed In 18844 when the search began Sirius B was only 3 arc seconds from
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