The first direct evidence of white dwarf stars solidifying into crystals has been discovered by astronomers at the University of Warwick, and our skies are filled with them.
Observations have revealed that dead remnants of stars like our Sun, called white dwarfs, have a core of solid oxygen and carbon due to a phase transition during their lifecycle similar to water turning into ice but at much higher temperatures. This could make them potentially billions of years older than previously thought.
The discovery, led by Dr Pier-Emmanuel Tremblay from the University of Warwick’s Department of Physics, has been published in Nature and is largely based on observations taken with the European Space Agency’s Gaia satellite.
White dwarf stars are some of the oldest stellar objects in the universe. They are incredibly useful to astronomers as their predictable lifecycle allows them to be used as cosmic clocks to estimate the age of groups of neighboring stars to a high degree of accuracy. They are the remaining cores of red giants after these huge stars have died and shed their outer layers and are constantly cooling as they release their stored up heat over the course of billions of years.