Billions of white dwarf stars are crystallising, say astronomers

New research suggests that long after our roiling boiling life-giving star runs out of fuel it will slowly form a cold dead super-dense crystal sphere about the size of the Earth that will linger like a translucent tombstone for close to eternity

New research suggests that long after our roiling boiling life-giving star runs out of fuel it will slowly form a cold dead super-dense crystal sphere about the size of the Earth that will linger like a translucent tombstone for close to eternity

Modeling work suggested that the pileup was caused by crystallization of the white dwarfs' interiors, which released enough heat to slow down the white dwarfs' cooling over time. This means that the sky really is there are millions of diamond spheres, - said Pier-Emmanuel Direction from Warwick University.

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.

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.

When that process comes to an end, the sun will enter the white dwarf stage, which is essentially a retired star made up primarily of oxygen and carbon gas.

The study, published in the journal Nature, represents the first direct evidence of white dwarfs transitioning from a liquid to a solid state.

They distinguished a heap up, an excess in the number of stars at explicit colors and luminosities that don't compare to any single mass or age.

Though they look serene and silent from our vantage on Earth, stars are actually roiling balls of violent plasma. Red dwarfs, the most common type of star, keep burning until they have transformed all their hydrogen into helium, turning into a white dwarf.

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Astronomers at the University of Warwick have found first direct evidence of white dwarf stars solidifying into crystals and our skies are filled with them. It was predicted fifty years ago that we should observe a pile-up in the number of white dwarfs at certain luminosities and colours due to crystallisation and only now this has been observed.

White-dwarf crystallization is akin to water freezing from liquid to ice. But as the star cools, that fluid solidifies and creates a metal core.

He said the Sun was expected to become a white dwarf and experience crystallisation between 8 and 14 billion years from now.

That, in turn, has an impact on our understanding of the stellar groupings these white dwarfs are a part of. Astronomers generally age these stellar corpses by taking their temperature, and crystallization slows the cooling-off process.

Not all white dwarfs crystallise at the same pace.

"With Gaia we now have the distance, brightness and colour of hundreds of thousands of white dwarfs for a sizeable sample in the outer disc of the Milky Way, spanning a range of initial masses and all kinds of ages". As for our Sun, the researcher and his colleagues estimate that it will undergo the crystallization process in around 10 billion years, give or take.

"The sun itself will become a crystal white dwarf in about 10 billion years", added Dr Tremblay, reminding us that these crystals - although a new discovery - are the usual end for stars.

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