Theoretical physics has generated many theories over the past century but new research into so-called ‘nuclear pasta’ – highly dense atomic material found in dead stars – shows the occurrence of an unprecedented development.
Researchers at the Indiana University Bloomington who study incredibly dense objects like neutron stars, formed when dying stars explode, are now theorizing that the gravitational force beneath the outer ‘crust’ of these celestial objects is so immense that it creates atomic structures that can only be described as “nuclear pasta.”
According to their research, just one kilometer below the crust of a neutron star, a dense mixture of neutrons and protons forms structures akin to pasta in all sorts of (theoretical) shapes and sizes, including but not limited to: blobs, tubes and sheets, like their real-world comparators lasagna and pasta.
In addition, the scientists theorize that this ‘nuclear pasta’ is roughly 100 trillion times the density of water and would require roughly 10 billion times the force required to break steel.
“This is a crazy-big figure, but the material is also very, very dense, so that helps make it stronger,” says study co-author and physicist Charles Horowitz of Indiana University Bloomington.
Creating such immense gravitational forces is impossible to achieve in a laboratory environment here on Earth, so the researchers instead created digital simulations to see what nuclear culinary delights they could concoct.
Physicists re still searching for evidence in the real world concerning the legendary “nuclear pasta” by studying the energy emanating from these neutron stars. Dead stars spin at tremendous speed and emit gravitational waves across space-time, which we can observe by using advanced lasers to measure gravity interference or LIGO.If a neutron star’s ‘crust’ is lumpy, as predicted by the digital ‘pasta’ models, then we would be able to prove the research hypothesis by detecting corresponding ‘ripples’ in the gravitational waves emitted. The lumps would need to be tens of centimeters in height. However, if LIGO manages to catch these space-time ripples then we may finally have discovered the hardest material in the known universe.