Our sun ‘is going to turn into a crystal sphere’

Gwen Vasquez
January 13, 2019

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.

"We've made a large step forward in getting accurate ages for these cooler white dwarfs and therefore old stars of the Milky Way".

The researchers from the UK, Canada, and the USA 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.

Dr Tremblay said: 'This is the first direct evidence that white dwarfs crystallise, or transition from liquid to solid. The process is similar to liquid water turning into ice on Earth at zero degrees Celsius, except that the temperature at which this solidification happens in white dwarfs is extremely high - about 10 million degrees Celsius.

'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.

The Sun might die in 10 billion years' time, and when it does, according to scientists, it will turn into a "crystal ball".

The crystallization process would dramatically slow the cooling process, theoretically prolonging the life of a star by as much as 2 billion years.

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Tremblay and colleagues looked at Gaia measurements of about 15,000 white dwarf and found a pileup, an excess of white dwarfs whose colors and brightness are not associated with their age or mass.

Eventually white dwarfs cool down into black dwarfs when they give off no more heat.

Over the next five billion years it will cool down - in the process first expanding into a "red giant" - then shrinking down to a white dwarf and gradually harden and solidify.

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

A team of astronomers led by Tremblay analyzed observations of 15,000 potential white dwarf stars within 300 light-years of Earth made by the European Space Agency's Gaia satellite. 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. Before Gaia we had 100-200 white dwarfs with precise distances and luminosities - and now we have 200,000. "The Sun itself will become a crystal white dwarf in about 10 billion years". "This will push the carbon upward, and that separation will release gravitational energy".

The same thing is happening in cores of these white dwarf stars except over a much longer time period, the authors said. "This experiment on an ultra-dense matter is something that simply can not be performed in any laboratory on Earth".

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