Nuclear and dark matter heating in massive white dwarf stars

C. J. Horowitz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Recently, Cheng et al. identified a number of massive white dwarfs (WD) that appear to have an additional heat source providing a luminosity near ≈10−3 L for multiple Gyr [S. Cheng, J. D. Cummings, and B. Ménard, Astrophys. J. 886, 100 (2019)]. In this paper we explore heating from electron capture and pycnonuclear reactions. We also explore heating from dark matter annihilation. WD stars appear to be too small to capture enough dark matter for this to be important. Finally, if dark matter condenses to very high densities inside a WD this could ignite nuclear reactions. We calculate the enhanced central density of a WD in the gravitational potential of a very dense dark matter core. While this might start a supernova, it seems unlikely to provide modest heating for a long time. We conclude that electron capture, pycnonuclear, and dark matter reactions are unlikely to provide significant heating in the massive WD that Cheng considers.

Original languageEnglish
Article number083031
JournalPhysical Review D
Issue number8
StatePublished - 27 Oct 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 American Physical Society.


We thank Ed Brown, Matt Caplan, and Brendan Reed for very helpful comments. This work is supported in part by United States Department of Energy Office of Science, Office of Nuclear Physics Grants No. DE-FG02-87ER40365 and No. DE-SC0018083.

FundersFunder number
Office of Nuclear PhysicsDE-SC0018083, DE-FG02-87ER40365
United States Department of Energy Office of Science


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