Is it possible there is a new element hidden inside a Neutron star?

04 October 2016

Question

Is it possible there is a new element hidden inside a Neutron star,as the laws of gravity dictate that the bigger the object the more gravity it has using all the known elements? However, a Neutron star has a gravity a million times more than Earth and is no more than twenty miles across. I realize conventional theory says Neutron stars are extremely compact because the space inside an atom is mostly made from space an it is that what is compressed. But under that sort of compression you would get an explosion like that of a supernova (the thing that caused it). Do you think it is a least theoretically possible?

You reason you do not see this element throughout the universe could be that it has such a strong magnetic pull it it not scattered throughout the universe but only found sticking together in a Neutron stars. When you think about it, tremendous heat is required to form new elements i.e Supernova. Bingo that's what forms Neutron stars!

Answer

We put Paul's question to Judith Croston...

Judith - Okay, so to the answer to this is no, but it's quite interesting why. So I should start perhaps by briefly explaining what a neutron star is. So, just as a reminder, a neutron star is one of these really strange stars. You take an ordinary star, so you could say take all of the matter in our solar system and squash it down to an incredibly high density so you could fit our solar system inside the M25, basically. Neutron stars are about ten kilometers in size but they all the matter inside them that an entire solar system could have.

Chris - Like one teaspoon full weighs millions of tons?

Judith - Yes. A teaspoon full could weigh the same as Mount Everest or something so they're very strange. The physics of them is really weird. They have very strong gravity but the important thing is the density and the pressure in the centre of neutron star is so incredibly high we just don't understand how physics work in those conditions, we can't do experiments in the lab.

So there are quite a lot of exotic theories about what could happen in the centre of a neutron star, but one thing that couldn't happen is the creation of a new chemical element similar to the sorts of things we have on the periodic table because chemical elements have protons and neutrons bound together and then they have orbits of electrons spinning around. And what happens in a neutron star is that as, when the star forms the protons and the electrons that were there, and the nuclei from the star, they combine together so the electrons and the protons combine together to make neutrons. So there's no space to have these orbitals of electrons spinning around so you couldn't make a new element like that.

On the other hand, there are theories about all sorts of weird things that could go on in the centre of neutron stars because the neutrons themselves might break down into quarks, which are the little particles that you get inside neutrons and protons. And then those quarks can do quite strange things and then combine together in various ways. So people are quite interested in trying to figure out the physics of neutron stars because it might tell us something interesting about those sorts of exotic states.

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