Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Speaking of Science: Physics al dente

Speaking of Science
Talk nerdy to us

Examples of "nuclear pasta," the material deep within neutron stars that was calculated to be the toughest material in the universe.

Speaking of Science readers will recall that in October, astrophysicists and astronomers reported the observation of a kilonova — the catastrophic merger of two neutron stars into one object. (This object might be a black hole, but there is no consensus.) A neutron star is born when a mid-sized star (about four to eight times bigger than the sun) goes supernova. Its pieces collapse inward. Its core is so dense and compact that a billion tons of neutron star fits in a teaspoon.

Researchers at Canada's McGill University, as well as the California Institute of Technology and Indiana University, crunched the numbers on neutron star material. It turns out that a dense soup of neutron clusters in the stars' crust may be the toughest stuff in the universe, the scientists calculate in a new study.

Those clusters are what astrophysicists call "nuclear pasta," structures made of subatomic particles that could only exist at densities found in the crust of a neutron star. Those densities force the protons and neutrons into flat sheets, clumps and other shapes that resemble, if you squint, pasta. To smash this pasta takes a force, Livescience reported, 10 billion times greater than what can shatter steel.


There's still a lot these researchers don't know about nuclear pasta. "How large a mountain can you build on a neutron star before the crust breaks and it collapses? What will it look like?" McGill University postdoctoral researcher and study author Matt Caplan asked in a statement. "And, most importantly, how can astronomers observe it?"


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