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Dark star

A dark star is a theoretical object under Newtonian mechanics that, due to its large mass, has a surface escape velocity that equals or exceeds the speed of light. Any light emitted at the surface of a dark star would thus be trapped by the star’s gravity rendering it dark, hence the name.

Einstein’s general theory of relativity has yielded more insight into the nature of objects of extraordinary mass. Such objects in modern understanding would be more properly described as black holes.


Dark star history

John Michell and dark stars

In 1783 John Michell wrote a long letter to Henry Cavendish outlining the expected properties of dark stars, published by The Royal Society in their 1784 volume. Michell calculated that when a surface whose escape velocity was equal or greater than lightspeed generated light, that light would be gravitationally trapped, so that the star would not be visible to a distant astronomer.

Michell’s idea for calculating the number of such “invisible” stars anticipated 20th century astronomers' work: he suggested that since a certain proportion of double-star systems might be expected to contain at least one “dark” star, we could search for and catalogue as many double-star systems as possible, and identify cases where only a single circling star was visible. This would then provide some sort of statistical baseline for calculating the amount of other unseen stellar matter that might exist in addition to the visible stars.

Dark stars and gravitational shifts

Michell also suggested that future astronomers might be able to identify the surface gravity of a distant star by seeing how far the star’s light was shifted to the weaker end of the spectrum, a precursor of Einstein’s 1911 gravity-shift argument. However, Michell cited Newton as saying that blue light was less energetic than red (Newton thought that more massive particles were associated with bigger wavelengths), so Michell’s predicted spectral shifts were in the wrong direction. It is difficult to tell whether Michell’s careful citing of Newton’s position on this may have reflected a lack of conviction on Michell’s part over whether Newton was correct, or whether it was just academic thoroughness.

Laplace and dark stars

A few years later, Pierre-Simon Laplace also considered the idea of gravitationally-cloaked stars in his book, “System du Monde”, apparently independently of Michell.

Wave theory

Later as the wave theory of light became popular Laplace and just about everyone else dropped the idea.

Indirect radiation

Dark stars and black holes both have a surface escape velocity equal or greater than lightspeed, and a critical radius of r ≤ 2M.

However, the dark star is capable of emitting indirect radiation - outward-aimed light and matter can leave the r = 2M surface briefly before being recaptured, and whilst outside the critical surface, can interact with other matter, or be accelerated free from the star by a chance encounter with other matter. A dark star therefore has a rarefied atmosphere of “visiting particles”, and this ghostly halo of matter and light can radiate, albeit weakly.


Differences between a dark star and a black hole

Radiation effects. A dark star may emit indirect radiation as described above. Black holes as described by current theories about quantum mechanics emit radiation through a different process, Hawking radiation, first postulated in 1975. The radiation emitted by a dark star depends on its composition and structure; Hawking radiation, by the no-hair theorem is generally thought of as depending only on the black hole's mass, charge, and angular momentum, although the black hole information paradox makes this controversial.

Light-bending effects Although "historical" Newtonian arguments will lead to the gravitational deflection of light (Newton, Cavendish, Soldner), general relativity predicts twice as much deflection in a lightbeam skimming the Sun. This difference can be explained by the additional contribution of gravitational time dilation effects under modern theory: while Newtonian gravitation could be said to curve space (if "space" is defined by the behaviour of lightbeams), gravitation under general relativity curves both space and time, with both forms of curvature contributing to the total deflection. Although Einstein's 1911 gravitational time-dilation arguments could be considered to be an overlooked consequence of Newtonian theory (Einstein, 1911) the effect is not part of "standard" Newtonian mechanics, and its appearance under general relativity is more explicit.

Dark matter dark stars

Main article: Dark star (dark matter)

In 2007 Douglas Spolyar, graduate student at the University of CA, Santa Cruz, Katherine Freese, Professor of Physics at the University of Michigan and Associate Director of the Michigan Center for Theoretical Physics, and Paolo Gondolo, associate professor of physics at the University of Utah published a paper in the journal Physical Review Letters on the behaviour of Dark matter in the form of neutralinos during star formation in the early universe within 80 million to 100 million years of the Big bang. The theory predicts that neutralino / neutralino annihilations would heat up any condensing star and stop it entering the fusion state of a normal star. The star produced would be dark at visible light wavelengths but would emit radiation in the form of gamma rays, neutrinos and antimatter such as positrons and antiprotons. The authors have given the name Dark star to this hypothetical body. [1]


  • Douglas Spolyar, Katherine Freese and Paolo Gondolo, "Dark matter and the first stars: a new phase of stellar evolution", Physical Review Letters, January (2008)
  • Katherine Freese, Paolo Gondolo, and Douglas Spolyar "The Effect of Dark Matter on the First Stars: A New Phase of Stellar Evolution", Proceedings of First Stars III, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 16-20 July (2007).
  • John Michell "On the means of discovering the distance, magnitude etc. of the fixed stars ..." Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (1784) 35-57, & Tab III
  • Simon Schaffer "John Michell and black holes", Journal for the History of Astronomy 10 42-43 (1979)
  • Gary Gibbons, "The man who invented black holes [his work emerges out of the dark after two centuries]", New Scientist, 28 June pp.1101 (1979)
  • J Eisenstaedt, "De L'influence de la gravitation sur la propagation de la lumière en théorie Newtonienne. L'archéologie des trous noirs", Arch. Hist. Exact Sci. 42 315-386 (1991)
  • Werner Israel, "Dark stars: The evolution of an idea", pages 199-276 of Hawking and Israel (eds) Three hundred years of gravitation (1987)
  • Thorne, Kip, Black Holes and Time Warps: Einstein's Outrageous Legacy, W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition, January 1, 1995, ISBN 0-393-31276-3.
Especially Chapter 3 "Black holes discovered and rejected".
  • Maggie McKee, "Universe's first stars may have been dark", New Scientist, 03 December (2007)


  1. ^ Spolyar, Douglas; Katherine Freese and Paolo Gondolo. "Dark matter in newborn universe doused earliest stars", Physical Review Letters, Reported in, December 03, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-12-04. 

See also

  • Magnetospheric eternally collapsing object
  • Black hole
  • Q star
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Dark_star". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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