CSUF News Service
Neutron Stars: An Astronomical Mystery
Oct. 16, 2017
Neutron stars are the densest stable form of matter in the universe — the collapsed remnants of dead massive stars, said Cal State Fullerton astrophysicist Jocelyn Read.
"These massive stars ran out of fuel and went supernova — the explosion of a star — and become zombie stars!" added Read, assistant professor of physics. "Neutron stars are where matter makes its last stand against the overwhelming force of gravity — an incredibly strong inward pull that’s almost able to collapse them into black holes."
Read, an expert on extreme stellar objects like neutron stars, continued that for most, even for scientists, neutron stars are difficult to fathom because they literally are so far out of our daily expertise: "We can’t reproduce the conditions inside, or even near, a neutron star here on Earth. So we don’t know what they are made of!"
Matter is compressed in the core of a neutron star to strange new forms that push the limits of the understanding of nuclear physics, condensed matter and particle interactions. Read's research specialty is learning about this matter using observations of gravitational waves.
"My students and I work to understand and model how neutron stars interact, collide and radiate energy so that observations can tell us new things about their structure and composition," she said.
Like many stars, neutron stars can be found in binary systems, where pairs of neutron stars orbit.
"As they do so, they lose energy to gravitational waves, eventually spiraling towards each other and colliding," Read said.
Matter thrown off from these collisions is thought to be the source of many heavy elements in our solar systems — like lead and gold. After the crash, the stars wobble together and collapse into a black hole, launching jets of high-energy radiation that flash across to distant galaxies.