Scientists find the lightest neutron star ever and it’s incredibly “weird”

Depiction of a neutron star emitting hot and cold winds (Gabriel Pérez (IAC))

Scientists have discovered the lightest neutron star ever, a small and extremely dense stellar object that could also confirm the existence of a very strange state of matter.

Neutron stars are one of the potential outcomes when a massive star dies in a fiery supernova explosion. After wiping out most of its mass in the explosion, the remaining stellar core collapses on itself, forming a black hole or neutron star – an ultra-compact star usually about 1.4 times as massive as the Sun, but only about six miles in diameter.

But scientists measuring the mass of a neutron star found in the remnants of a past supernova called HESS J1731-347 found that the neutron star weighed 77 percent of the mass of the Sun, according to their article published Monday in the journal. Astronomy of nature. Not only is the light neutron star yet discovered, the authors note, but it could be an example of an exotic and hitherto only hypothetical stellar object known as a “strange star.”

Strange stars live up to their names both colloquially and theoretically.

When formed from the collapsing nucleus of a massive and dying star, neutron stars are believed to become so compressed that the normally charged constituents of matter, the positively charged protons in atomic nuclei, and the negatively charged electrons orbiting the nucleus of each atom, are shattered into negatively charged neutron particles.

But it’s theorized that under the right conditions, neutron star interiors could become even stranger.

It is theorized that matter deep in a neutron star could be squeezed until the usual subatomic particles such as neutrons no longer exist, and matter exists in the form of even smaller particles, known as quarks, which make up the most familiar. protons and neutrons. Quarks have strange names, such as up, down, top, charmed and, indeed, “strange”.

A neutron star with a core of quark matter containing strange quarks would be considered a “strange star” and theoretically would have a lower mass than a conventional neutron star.

It is still unclear what astronomers are dealing with and they could probably learn a lot from studying the object if it turns out to be a conventional neutron star or a “strange star”.

“Our estimate implies that this object is the lightest known neutron star or a ‘strange star’ with a more exotic equation of state,” they write. The adoption of a standard hypothesis of stellar matter of neutrons allows to constrain the corresponding equations of state “.

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