Billions of white dwarf stars are crystallising, say astronomers

Pablo Tucker
January 11, 2019

The astronomers said that their observation provides the first direct evidence that white dwarf stars would solidify into crystal.

"It was predicted 50 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 stars are among the oldest objects in the universe, and represent one of the final life phases of stars like the sun. The process results in white dwarfs with a core of crystallized oxygen and mantle dominated by carbon.

Researchers reveal that this crystallisation process is similar to the process we commonly see on Earth where water vapours first turn into liquid and then change into a solid the colder they get.

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.

The crystal spheres are made of carbon and oxygen under such high density their crystal structure will make them appear to be like a metal - although it is possible that diamonds may also form as the star cools.

They found a "pile-up", or excess, in the numbers of stars at specific sets of luminosities and colours but not corresponding with any single mass or age.

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.

You may have heard that billions of years down the road the sun will swell to a ravenous red giant star that will eventually swallow Earth.

My assumption scientists build on the analysis of more than 15 thousand white dwarfs, distant from the Earth at a distance of 300 light years.

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

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

"Before Gaia we had 100-200 white dwarfs with precise distances and luminosities - and now we have 200,000", Tremblay said, giving the satellite the bulk of the credit for the research team's discovery. Before it begins to solidify and harden gradually, the sun will turn into a red giant, and from that moment it will begin to shrink down and turn into a white dwarf.

"Not only do we have evidence of heat release upon solidification, but considerably more energy release is needed to explain the observations", said Tremblay.

'This means that billions of white dwarfs in our galaxy have already completed the process and are essentially crystal spheres in the sky. "This experiment on an ultra-dense matter is something that simply can not be performed in any laboratory on Earth".

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