The team made their special find after looking at 15,000 white dwarf candidates with the European Space Agency’s Gaia satellite, which precisely tracks the ages, types, and positions of stars.
Gaia discovered an abundance of stars that couldn't be grouped by age or mass, which astronomers like to do to classify stellar objects. A closer look showed that these strange stars are cooling down more slowly than expected, because heat is being released to a large degree.
So in other words, the stars are aging more slowly, all due to the growth of crystals. Some stars may stay Peter Pan-like for two billion years — a good chunk of the 13.7 billion-year-old history of our universe so far.
RELATED: Black Hole Found Clutching a White Dwarf in the Closest Such Orbit Ever Seen
Astronomers theorized about this process for decades, but this is the first time a spacecraft picked up direct evidence of aging slowing down as white dwarfs solidify into crystals. But there’s still more work to be done.
Tremblay said that he and his research team need to beef up their plasma and nuclear physics models to better explain how the transformation takes place.
“This would help us to learn about the actual internal composition of white dwarfs — the carbon-oxygen fraction — and nuclear reaction rates, which should give us even more precise ages and insight about stellar evolution,” he said. “Some of these advances could be made with pulsating white dwarfs, that are also in the process of crystallizing.”
While the crystal phase of white dwarfs is fascinating, they won’t stay that way forever. Eventually, the white dwarf will keep cooling and losing its remaining traces of atmosphere. The ultimate fate will be a “fully solid black dwarf,” Tremblay said, which would float unlit for at least a thousand years until the dwarf disintegrates — or until the expansion of space itself tears it apart.