Photo and Story by Emily Blalock/ Contributing Writer
Eric Klumpe, a professor in the MTSU Physics and Astronomy Department, provided a lecture for students and community members about exploring white dwarf stars during his presentation on Friday night in the Wiser-Patten Science Hall.
His lecture, entitled “Looking Inside White Dwarfs,” was part of the department’s Friday Star Parties, in which different professors from the department lead discussions on different topics the first Friday of every month. The university’s observatory is typically open to the public following the lecture.
Klumpe began his talk by explaining what a white dwarf star is and describing how they are formed.
“The first word, ‘white,’ is indicative of the color of the star, which is indicative of its temperature,” Klumpe said. “It’s basically white hot. Now the way white dwarf stars evolve is they essentially cool off. A white dwarf is actually the core of a star that has run its life and has started to discard its outer layers.”
Klumpe explained that the first white dwarf star to be observed, Sirius B, was discovered by telescope maker Alvan Clark in 1862. Astronomers have been collecting data and unraveling the mysterious nature of white dwarf stars ever since.
“What you see on the surface is directly affected by the internal physics of a white dwarf star,” he stated.
Klumpe also delved deeper into the observation methods astronomers use to study the stars today and broke down the math for everyone to understand.
“The diameter of the Earth is about one percent of the diameter of a star like the sun,” he said. “We are discovering Earth-size objects that are incredibly luminous and bright for their size, comparable in mass of the sun. So you’ve got something that’s the size of Earth but has as much material in it, as I’m sure the Sun does.”
Klumpe also described the work he did with Whole Earth Telescope, a worldwide network of astronomers working together to gather data on white dwarf stars.
“The group I worked with, we did a lot of interesting things. We made some discoveries about white dwarf stars that very few people, unless you read the literature, probably are commonly aware of, “ he explained. “We discovered that roughly 95 percent of stars become white dwarfs.”
After the lecture, Klumpe opened the floor for questions regarding his topic. Due to the overcast weather, the observatory could not be used to view the night sky after the presentation.
The next Friday Star Party will be held on March 15 and will be hosted by Jana Ruth Ford.
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