In a process not unlike human aging, most stars entering the final chapter of their lives tend to shrink, shrivel and slowly turn white. Astronomers call these cold, dense husks of once-mighty stars white dwarfs and, unlike humans, their dotage can last for billions of years.
In that time, stars with masses between about a tenth and eight times the mass of our sun burn up the last of their nuclear energy, shed their fiery outer layers and dwindle into ultracompact cores that pack about a sun’s-worth of mass into a planet-size package. While this might sound like an unglamorous ending for a star, a new study published today (Jan. 9) in the journal Nature posits that white dwarfhood may be just the start of a beautiful new metamorphosis.
In a study of more than 15,000 known white dwarfs around the Milky Way, a team of astronomers from the University of Warwick in the U.K. concluded that dying stars don’t just fizzle out of existence — they first turn into luminous crystal orbs.