Stars like our sun can turn into crystals in the final stages of their lives, bringing a whole new meaning to those glittering jewels in the sky.
For the first time astronomers have directly observed evidence of white dwarf stars solidifying into giant crystals.
Have you got "space" for more out-of-this-world trivia? Over the course of billions of years, the stellar husk continues to bleed heat, until the core finally cools to around 10 million °C.
"All white dwarfs will crystallize at some point in their evolution, although more massive white dwarfs go through the process sooner", said team lead Dr. Pier-Emmanuel Tremblay, whose study was recently published in Nature.
Many scientists thought it was likely that white dwarf stars would form crystals as they cooled, but there was disagreement about whether the energy released from the process would be detectable, Tremblay said. "The sun itself will become a crystal white dwarf in about 10 billion years". 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.More news: Discovered documents reportedly link Huawei to illegal equipment sales in Iran, Syria
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 same thing is happening in cores of these white dwarf stars except over a much longer time period, the authors said.
The twinkling orb may look similar to the other fiery stars around it, but it is actually a ideal sphere of crystal. Test your stellar smarts with this quiz.
Further analysis and modeling suggested that the odd "pile-up" is due to the crystallization process.
The crystal spheres are made of carbon and oxygen under such high density their crystal structure will make them appear to be like a metal - although it is possible that diamonds may also form as the star cools.More news: Leeds United employee 'seen acting suspiciously' outside Derby County's training ground
Stars like our own sun which aren't large enough to collapse into black holes will become white dwarfs once they reach the end of their life-cycle.
White-dwarf crystallization is akin to water freezing from liquid to ice. It's just that the temperature needed in this case is around 10 million degrees.
However, the death of a red dwarf and its subsequent transformation into a white dwarf does not mark the end of its evolutionary journey. "We believe this is due to the oxygen crystallizing first and then sinking to the core, a process similar to sedimentation on a riverbed on Earth".
After this contraction the star can still create energy by fusing helium to create carbon and oxygen, Tremblay said. Astronomers generally age these stellar corpses by taking their temperature, and crystallization slows the cooling-off process.More news: Lana Del Ray Releases New Single