SNAPSHOT: First Direct Evidence Stars Like Our Sun Turn Into Crystals

Cesar Mills
January 11, 2019

Using photometry and parallax data harvested by ESA's Gaia satellite, a team of astronomers led by Dr. Pier-Emmanuel Tremblay from the University of Warwick's Department of Physics, set out to find direct evidence of white dwarf crystallization.

"All white dwarfs will crystallize at some point in their evolution", Tremblay said in a media release.

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. The work verified earlier predictions that such a catalog of white dwarf stars would reveal a number in the slow process of turning from what is essentially a liquid form to a solid state.

When the transition occurs, the atoms in the super dense interior of the star form into an ordered structure and solidify, in a similar way to how liquid water transitions into ice.

The crystallization process would dramatically slow the cooling process, theoretically prolonging the life of a star by as much as 2 billion years. Once they reach a certain temperature, the originally hot matter inside the star's core starts crystallising, becoming solid.

They found large numbers of the stars showing signs that indicated that they have cooled down - and showed signs they were turning to rock.

"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".

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There are billions of white dwarves out there that have already gone through this process, astral remnants haunting our galaxy like freakish crystal ghosts.

The team in Warwick studied 15,000 white dwarf candidates within around 300 light years of Earth and measured their colour and luminosity for clues about their composition. Models suggest there are millions of solidified white dwarfs spinning throughout the cosmos.

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.

Dr Tremblay adds: "Not only do we have evidence of heat release upon solidification, but considerably more energy release is needed to explain the observations. This will push the carbon upwards, and that separation will release gravitational energy".

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

"We realised that this was not a distinct population of white dwarfs, but the effect of the cooling and crystallisation predicted 50 years ago".

Other reports by GizPress

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