A team of astronomers led by Tremblay analyzed observations of 15,000 potential white dwarf stars within 300 light-years of Earth made by the European Space Agency's Gaia satellite. "We realized that this was not a distinct population of white dwarfs, but the effect of the cooling and crystallization predicted 50 years ago". In the process, they uncovered a "pile-up" of stars with colors and luminosities that matched those predicted for crystallized white dwarfs.
The new results suggest that many white dwarfs are considerably older than scientists had thought - up to 15 percent older in some cases, study team members said.
White dwarf stars are among the oldest objects in the universe, and represent one of the final life phases of stars like the sun.
These excess corresponded to a particular time in the evolution in a star in which they are expected to slow their cooling process and thus age more slowly. So what does that have to do with crystal balls in space?
"This means that billions of white dwarfs in our galaxy have already completed the process and are essentially crystal spheres in the sky".
'The sun itself will become a crystal white dwarf in about 10 billion years'.
"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.
Smaller stars that don't get to end their lives and go out with a supernova bang eventually peter out to become white dwarfs. At this point, the heart of the star begins to crystallize. These unbound electrons leave behind a conductive electron gas governed by quantum physics and a liquid form of positively charged nuclei.
Dr Tremblay said: "This is the first direct evidence that white dwarfs crystallise, or transition from liquid to solid". If you were keeping track with a thermometer, you would find that the temperature of water stalls at zero degrees Celsius for a bit - the exact time that the H20 molecules are rearranging themselves into the crystal structure of ice. In case you're wondering, yes, this will happen to our sun at some point. And while they initially radiate enough heat that we can see them in our telescopes, they slowly lose their energy over billions of years.
There are billions of white dwarves out there that have already gone through this process, astral remnants haunting our galaxy like freakish crystal ghosts.
Further analysis and modeling suggested that the odd "pile-up" is due to the crystallization process.
After this contraction the star can still create energy by fusing helium to create carbon and oxygen, Tremblay said. Think of that next time you gaze up at the night sky.