The Sun will become a giant crystal ball when it dies

Christopher Davidson
January 11, 2019

We believe this is due to the oxygen crystallising first and then sinking to the core, a process similar to sedimentation on a river bed on Earth.

The first direct evidence of white dwarf stars solidifying into crystals has been discovered by astronomers at the University of Warwick, and our skies are filled with them.

And there are billions of similar sparkling crystal spheres in the Milky Way alone.

A research team led by University of Warwick astronomer Pier-Emmanuel Tremblay selected 15,000 white dwarf candidates within around 300 light-years of Earth from observations made by Gaia and analyzed data on the stars' luminosities and colors. Using data from the ESA's Gaia satellite, an global 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. "It was anticipated fifty years back that we should observe a pile-up in the number of white dwarfs at specific radiances and colors because of crystallization and only now this has been observed". "Using modelling, we infer that this pile-up arises from the release of latent heat as the cores of the white dwarfs crystallize", the researchers wrote in their study which was published on January 9.

Crystallization sets in when white dwarfs cool down to ten million degrees Celsius and bigger stars will crystallize faster than smaller ones.

It is assessed that at times these stars have backed off their maturing by as much as 2 billion years, or 15 percent of the age of our galaxy. This is the first evidence of crystallization inside white dwarfs, a process that has been predicted in 1968.

"White dwarfs are traditionally used for age-dating of stellar populations such as clusters of stars, the outer disk, and the halo in our Milky Way", Dr. Tremblay said.

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But try not to worry too much, it won't be for another 10 billion years.

But just as the water in your freezer continues to cool after it releases all its latent energy, white dwarfs eventually resume their cooling as well.

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

Scientists further reveal that this crystallisation lasts for several billion years, and the heat released during the process slows down the evolution of the white dwarfs.

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. Our sun is also expected to end its life in the same manner, crystallizing like a jewel in about 10 billion years.

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