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11 January 2019, 09:13 | Dale Webster
New study suggests ancient stars form crystal cores
One of Discover's favorite space artists and regular contributors, Mark Garlick, created this impression of a white dwarfstar solidifying to accompany the announcement.
It is noted that the dead stars are of particular interest to astrophysicists because they can very accurately determine the distance in space. "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.
The team in Warwick studied 15,000 white dwarf candidates within around 300 light years of Earth and measured their colour and luminosity for clues about their composition.
According to the team, they were able to find a large number of white dwarfs of specific colours and luminosities. The crystallization of white dwarfs is similar to how water turns into ice only that the cosmic process involve higher temperatures. Once they reach a certain temperature, the originally hot matter inside the star's core starts crystallising, becoming solid.
Five billion years from now, it's said the sun will have grown into a red giant star, more than a hundred times larger than its current size. The star stops dimming and appears much younger (up to two billion years) than its age.
Astronomers at the University of Warwick have found first direct evidence of white dwarf stars solidifying into crystals and our skies are filled with them.
Astronomers identified the first direct evidence that old stars turn to rock when they run out of nuclear fuel and begin to cool down.
"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. In the process, they uncovered a "pile-up" of stars with colors and luminosities that matched those predicted for crystallized white dwarfs.
"We will now have to develop better crystallisation models to get more accurate estimates of the ages of these systems". 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 solid spheres.
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.
Not all white dwarfs crystallize at the same pace.
"All white dwarfs will crystallize at some point in their evolution, although more massive white dwarfs go through the process sooner", Dr. Tremblay said.
Dr. Tremblay added that all white dwarfs will eventually crystallize, meaning that "billions of white dwarfs in our galaxy have already completed the process and are essentially crystal spheres in the sky".
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