When the sun dies, it turns into a crystal. A study recently published in the journal Nature shows that 10 billion years after the sun runs out of fuel for burning, its core will turn into a white dwarf, a star composed of crystalline metallic oxygen and carbon.
And the sun will not be alone. About 97% of the stars in our sky will also turn into crystals when they die.
This makes our universe truly precious, and all thanks to a special cooling process inside each star that turns them into a crystal at high temperatures, just like water turns into ice here on Earth.
Why the sun will turn into a crystal?
“This is a relatively simple chemical experiment, like observing the temperature of water ice when placed in a freezer, but for white dwarfs, the timeline is the full story of the universe,” said lead author Pierre-Emmanuel Tremblay of Warwick University in the United Kingdom via email to Seeker.
Astronomers love white dwarfs, not only because of their precious interiors but also because they are some of the oldest objects in the universe. White dwarfs develop according to a predictable pattern, which allows scientists to use these stars as a kind of “space clock” to estimate how old the neighboring stars are.
The team made their special discovery by looking at 15,000 white dwarf candidates using the Gaia satellite of the European Space Agency, which accurately tracks the age, types and position of stars.
Gaia discovered many stars that cannot be grouped by age or mass, which astronomers love to do to classify stellar objects. Upon closer inspection, it turned out that these strange stars cool more slowly than expected because the heat is released to a large extent.
In other words, stars age more slowly due to crystal growth. Some stars may remain like Peter Pan for two billion years — a good piece of our universe’s 13.7 billion-year history.
Astronomers have theorized about this process for decades, but this is the first time that a spacecraft has found direct evidence of a slowdown in aging when white dwarfs solidify into crystals. But much work remains to be done.
Although the crystalline phase of white dwarfs is fascinating, they will not be so forever. In the end, the white dwarf will continue to cool and lose its remaining traces of the atmosphere. The final fate will be a completely solid black dwarf that will glow for at least a thousand years until the dwarf decays – or until space itself tears it apart.