Published: Fri, January 11, 2019
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

Billions of white dwarf stars are crystallising, say astronomers

Billions of white dwarf stars are crystallising, say astronomers

Astronomers have discovered that billions of stars across space are turning into massive crystals.and the sun could be next!

"In tens of billions of years from now the universe will be made largely of dense crystal spheres", said Pier-Emmanuel Tremblay, an astrophysicist at the University of Warwick in Coventry, England, who led the work published this week in Nature.

Scientists had predicted five decades ago that as white dwarf stars cool down, they would solidify, or crystallise, but no one knew how much heat would be released in this process or even whether solidification could be proved or observed. Their life cycles are predictable enough for astronomers to use them as an eerily accurate basis for estimating the ages of surrounding stars. Using data from the ESA's Gaia satellite, an worldwide group of researchers claim to have found evidence that supports the theory that when massive white dwarf stars like our brilliant host (the Sun) burn out and die, they solidify into metallic crystals. The crystallization of white dwarfs is similar to how water turns into ice only that the cosmic process involve higher temperatures. These burnt-out stars are reduced to dwindling orbs of gas made up of electrons and carbon and oxygen ions.

In their research, scientists from the University of Warwick found that a large number of stars have been going through this process.

This diagram, known as Hertzsprung-Russell diagram, combines information about the brightness, color and distance of more than 15,000 white dwarfs within 300 light-years of Earth.

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An artist's impression of crystallization in a white dwarf star.

The researchers analyzed a whopping 15,109 white dwarfs and mapped their luminosities and colors and saw a unusual group of data points sticking out. They are the rest of the centers of red goliaths after these colossal stars have passed on and shed their external layers and are always cooling as they discharge their accumulated warmth through the span of billions of years. They believe that the missing energy could be released in the form of gravitational energy, created as carbon is pushed to the surface of the star by falling oxygen that had crystallized earlier in the process.

Our sun is going to turn into a crystal sphere - although we won't be around to see it, as it'll happen in ten billion years. The astronomers realized that this pile-up was not a distinct population of white dwarfs, but the effect of the cooling and crystallization of the originally hot matter inside the star's core. But that's not what the Gaia data show.

Not all white dwarfs crystallize at the same pace.

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

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