A New Study Claims the Strongest Material in the Universe May Be 'Nuclear Pasta'

Wednesday, 19 September 2018 - 1:05PM
Space
Physics
Wednesday, 19 September 2018 - 1:05PM
A New Study Claims the Strongest Material in the Universe May Be 'Nuclear Pasta'
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When Stephen Hawking coined the term "spaghettification" to describe what happens when you're sucked into a black hole, we doubt he expected the term "nuclear pasta" (at least, that's what Phys.org is calling it) to enter the lexicon. Still, it's hard to argue it's not appropriate: scientists studying neutron stars have theorized that the masses of neutrons within these strange objects group together to form structures that look suspiciously like Italian pasta, and have even gone so far as to classify them with names like 'gnocchi' and 'lasagna'. Now, based on new simulations, it may turn out that this nuclear pasta is the strongest material in the universe.

But let's back up just a little bit. A neutron star is one of a few different outcomes for a star that's reached the late stages of its life, the others being a black hole and a white dwarf. Neutron stars come from the collapse of massive stars, and are pretty strange in themselves: they're the densest objects in the universe (one neutron star can jam about two-and-a-half times our Sun's mass into a 12-mile diameter) and act as galactic lighthouses by shooting out narrow beams of gamma radiation (called a pulsar).

When they collapse, neutron stars expel all their neutrinos, which makes them even denser. Based on what scientists know about their composition, the surface of a neutron star should be extremely strong, but if our understanding of these bodies is correct, the material below should be almost unimaginably strong. According to a new paper published in Physical Review Letters, the pasta-shaped structures within a neutron star should be 10 billion times stronger than steel, and may cause gravitational ripples that reveal their strange shapes.

Right now this research is still theoretical, but it offers a window into how bizarre the universe's kitchen can get.

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