Sun to Become a Crystallized Ball When It Dies, New Study Suggests
Sun to Become a Crystallized Ball When It Dies, New Study Suggests
Before a white dwarf dies it turns into a crystal ball research suggests. Credit University of Warwick Mark Garlick
13 January, 2019, 08:14
If the stars did not crystallise they would cool at a steady rate, going from blue to orange to red and losing brightness along a smooth slope. It is estimated that in some cases these stars have slowed down their aging by as much as 2 billion years, or 15 percent of the age of our galaxy. Using data from the ESA's Gaia satellite, an worldwide 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.
The heat released during this crystallization process, which lasts several billion years, seemingly slows down the evolution of the white dwarfs: the stars stop dimming and, as a result, appear up to two billion years younger than they actually are.
"It was predicted 50 years ago that we should observe a pile-up in the number of white dwarfs at certain luminosities and colors due to crystallization and only now this has been observed", Tremblay explained. "This is the first direct evidence that white dwarfs crystallise, or transition from liquid to solid", University of Warwick physicist Pier-Emmanuel Tremblay said in a press release.
The pile-up suggests white dwarfs experience a phase change when large amounts of heat dissipate from the stellar core. And because white dwarfs are among our cosmos' oldest stellar objects, with predictable life stages, astronomers often use them as "clocks" to date surrounding groups of stars.
"The sun itself will become a crystal white dwarf in about 10 billion years", added Dr Tremblay, reminding us that these crystals - although a new discovery - are the usual end for stars.
Crystallisation is the process of a material becoming a solid state, in which its atoms form an ordered structure. Sun-like stars swell into red giants before puffing away their outer shells into colorful nebula while their cores collapse into a white dwarf. 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.
After this contraction the star can still create energy by fusing helium to create carbon and oxygen, Tremblay said.
The Sun still has about five billion years before it becomes a white dwarf, and the astronomers estimate that it will take another five billion years after that to eventually cool down to a crystal sphere.
Scientists have now been able to verify the theory, thanks to observations recorded by the European Space Agency's Gaia satellite.
A scan of the heavens has shown space is littered with the crystallized remains of stars, and our own sun is expected to go the same way, too. "This experiment on an ultra-dense matter is something that simply can not be performed in any laboratory on Earth".
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