Stars Like The Sun Become Giant Crystal Ball When They Die

The Sun Will Turn Into a Giant Crystal Ball After It Dies

The Sun Will Turn Into a Giant Crystal Ball After It Dies

One of Discover's favorite space artists and regular contributors, Mark Garlick, created this impression of a white dwarf star solidifying to accompany the announcement.

The researchers from the UK, Canada, and the United States gathered data from the European Space Agency's Gaia satellite and discovered the evidence that white dwarfs would also become solid crystals after their death. The data found a "pile-up", or a rather larger number of white dwarfs with "specific colors and luminosities that do not correspond to any single mass or age".

"This is the first direct evidence that white dwarfs crystallize, or transition from liquid to solid", said physicist Pier-Emmanuel Tremblay from the University of Warwick.

At their core these stars are solid and made of oxygen and carbon due to what's called a phase transition - similar to water turning into ice, only at much higher temperatures.

Tremblay said their studies suggested that white dwarfs stop their cooling by turning from liquid to almost 99 per cent solid over about 1.5 billion years.

It is assessed that at times these stars have backed off their maturing by as much as 2 billion years, or 15 percent of the age of our galaxy.

Many scientists thought it was likely that white dwarf stars would form crystals as they cooled, but there was disagreement about whether the energy released from the process would be detectable, Tremblay said.

"All white dwarfs will crystallize at some point in their evolution, although more massive white dwarfs go through the process sooner", said Dr. Tremblay.

In this study, the astronomers analysed more than 15 000 stellar remnant candidates within 300 light years of Earth as observed by Gaia and were able to see these crystallising white dwarfs as a rather distinct group. Over the course of billions of years, the stellar husk continues to bleed heat, until the core finally cools to around 10 million °C. White dwarfs with lower masses, closer to the expected end stage of the Sun, cool in a slower fashion, requiring up to six billion years to turn into dead solid spheres.

"We saw a pile-up of white dwarfs of certain colors and luminosities that were otherwise not linked together in terms of their evolution", Dr. Tremblay explained. "The Sun itself will become a crystal white dwarf in about 10 billion years".

Understanding the gravitational energy release of dying stars and how it slows their cooling could help us determine the age of other stars. These data revealed an odd "pileup" - an overabundance of white dwarfs with certain colors and brightnesses that can not be explained by the objects' ages or masses.

"It's exciting how scanning stars across the sky and measuring their properties can lead to evidence of plasma phenomena in matter so dense that cannot be tested in the laboratory".

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