The Sun will become a giant crystal ball when it dies

11 Janvier, 2019, 08:39 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • White dwarf star in the process of solidifying. Pic University of Warwick  Mark Garlick

Like the vast majority of stars in our Milky Way galaxy, the sun will eventually collapse into a white dwarf, an exotic object about 200,000 times denser than Earth. "The sun itself will become a crystal white dwarf in about 10 billion years". To put that in perspective: A mere teaspoon of white-dwarf material would weigh about as much as an elephant, if you could somehow transport the stuff to our planet.

One of Discover's favorite space artists and regular contributors, Mark Garlick, created this impression of a white dwarf star solidifying to accompany the announcement.

Data was compiled by the European Space Agency's Gaia and analyzed over a span of five years, looking at approximately 15,000 white dwarfs within close proximity to the Sun, approximately 330 light-years away. The work verified earlier predictions that such a catalog of white dwarf stars would reveal a number in the slow process of turning from what is essentially a liquid form to a solid state. Gaia does this by precisely monitoring the positions of huge numbers of stars; the mission team aims to study 1 billion stars over the spacecraft's operational lifetime. In the process, they uncovered a "pile-up" of stars with colors and luminosities that matched those predicted for crystallized white dwarfs.

Though they look serene and silent from our vantage on Earth, stars are actually roiling balls of violent plasma. Therefore, gaining a greater understanding of how crystallization can stave off the cooling process, essentially making the stars appear younger than they really are, would help astronomers improve the accuracy of the white dwarf dating technique.

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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.

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

But whether the Earth's rocky core will survive is uncertain. "This will push the carbon upwards, and that separation will release gravitational energy".

Astronomers had long suspected such crystallization was possible. It's not a freakish science fiction plot, but the takeaway of new scientific research published this week in the journal Nature.

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