Thousands of stars turning into crystals

13 January, 2019, 08:13 | Author: Sherry Houston
  • The Sun Will Turn Into a Giant Crystal Ball After It Dies

Modeling revealed that this odd pileup was due to the crystallization of the white dwarf's interior that released heat to slow down the cooling of the white dwarfs.

But to find direct evidence, the team turned to data gathered by the European Space Agency's Gaia satellite and analyzed some 15,000 white dwarf candidates. What they found was a "pile-up", or a large group of stars at specific colors/luminosities that "do not correspond to any single mass or age". Their work offers the first evidence that white dwarfs indeed solidify into crystals.

White dwarfs are the remnants of dying stars of a size similar to the Sun.

"Previously, we had distances for only a few hundreds of white dwarfs and many of them were in clusters, where they all have the same age", says Pier-Emmanuel Tremblay from the University of Warwick, UK, lead author of the paper describing the results, published today in Nature.

The crystallization of white dwarfs is similar to how water turns into ice only that the cosmic process involve higher temperatures. "It was predicted 50 years ago that we should observe a pileup in the number of white dwarfs at certain luminosities and colors due to crystallization, and only now this has been observed".

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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. Thankfully, the star that makes life on Earth possible has about 10 billion years to go before shrinking into a crystallized hunk of matter. 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.

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.

For the new study, the researchers looked at Gaia measurements of about 15,000 white dwarfs, all of which lie within 330 light-years of the sun.

And when the process is complete they become what are known as black dwarfs - cold crystal spheres that are not detectable with our telescopes because they don't emit energy. As they shrink, the ions are squeezed closer together until they eventually freeze in place to form ordered crystal lattice structures. Models suggest there are millions of solidified white dwarfs spinning throughout the cosmos. "The Sun itself will become a crystal white dwarf in about 10 billion years".

"Not only do we have evidence of heat release upon solidification, but considerably more energy release is needed to explain the observations", added Tremblay. "This experiment on an ultra-dense matter is something that simply can not be performed in any laboratory on Earth".

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