Billions of stars (including the sun) are turning into crystals

White dwarf star in the process of solidifying

The pile-up suggests white dwarfs experience a phase change when large amounts of heat dissipate from the stellar core.

Thanks to the European Space Agency's Gaia spacecraft, which has been charting star positions in the Milky Way since 2013, Tremblay and his team were able to analyze 15,000 white dwarfs at varying stages of their cooling evolution.

The analysis revealed a "pile-up" of stars with the the same color and luminosity but with different masses and ages. Dr. Trembley mentioned that no other direct evidence has ever been discovered that white dwarfs crystallize ( the process of turning solid from liquid). The process results in white dwarfs with a core of crystallized oxygen and mantle dominated by carbon.

"All white dwarfs will crystallize at some point in their evolution, although more massive white dwarfs go through the process sooner", Pier-Emmanuel Tremblay from the University of Warwick's Department of Physics in the United Kingdom explained in a statement.

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.

In addition to that, fifty years ago it was predicted that a number of white dwarfs would be observed certain luminosities and colors due to crystallization.

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"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.

"All white dwarfs will crystallize at some point in their evolution, although more massive white dwarfs go through the process sooner", said Dr. Tremblay. 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. 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. This means that billions of white dwarfs in our galaxy have already completed the process and are essentially crystal spheres in the sky. As it cools over time, the core transforms into an solid crystal.

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

"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.

According to the authors of the new paper, the release of heat energy alone would not be enough to account for their observations. "This will push the carbon upward, and that separation will release gravitational energy".

"It's exciting how scanning stars across the sky and measuring their properties can lead to evidence of plasma phenomena in matter so dense that cannot be tested in the laboratory".

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