Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Quark star glimmers

11.04.2002


Space telescope may have spotted strange matter.
© NASA/Chandra


Astronomers may have discovered a strange new form of matter.

Astronomers think they might have spotted a quark star, a mass of fundamental particles only a few kilometres across but weighing more than our Sun. If the star’s nature is confirmed, it would be the first example of this state of matter.

Theoreticians hypothesized the existence of quark stars in the 1980s. Today, NASA announced the discovery of such a star, based on results from their space telescope the Chandra X-ray Observatory. The star, called RX J1856, is about 360 light years from Earth.



RX J1856 was previously thought to be a neutron star - these are formed when a large star explodes and collapses in on itself. Gravitational attraction between particles in an atom overcomes the electrical repulsion keeping them apart, fusing protons and electrons to form neutrons, which pack together at unimaginable density. A teaspoonful of neutron star would weigh a billion tons.

But Chandra’s measurements suggest that, at just over 11 kilometres across, RX J1856 is too small to be a neutron star, if current models are correct.

Instead, neutrons and protons in the star may themselves have dissolved into an even denser mass of their constituent quarks, suggests Jeremy Drake of the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and his colleagues1. This is known as strange matter, in which the packaging of three constituent quarks in a proton or neutron breaks down.

"Strange matter could be fairly common in the Universe," says Drake. It should be stable, and might grow like a crystal from the neutrons and protons it encounters. It’s possible, he adds, that all neutron stars are in fact quark stars. Drake declares himself "unbiased" about the star’s true identity.

But astronomer Frederick Walter of the State University of New York, Stony Brook, argues that the announcement is premature. Our ignorance of the star’s temperature and chemical composition make its diameter uncertain, he says.

"If it’s a quark star it’s spectacular, but there’s absolutely no evidence for that," Walter says. There is an alternative explanation: that variation in the star’s temperature makes it hard to estimate its diameter. The probability of this is less than 10%, as it would require the hottest part of the star to be pointing straight at Earth.

"These results are not definitive," agrees Michael Turner, an astrophysicist at the University of Chicago. Studies of other bodies are needed to confirm whether quark stars really exist, he says.

Chandra’s observations do show how the extreme regions of space can be used to test physical theories, adds Turner. "We can use the Universe as a heavenly laboratory."

References

  1. Drake, J. J. et al. Is RX J185635-375 a Quark Star?. Preprint, (2002).


JOHN WHITFIELD | © Nature News Service

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht MEMS chips get metatlenses
21.02.2018 | American Institute of Physics

nachricht International team publishes roadmap to enhance radioresistance for space colonization
21.02.2018 | Biogerontology Research Foundation

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: In best circles: First integrated circuit from self-assembled polymer

For the first time, a team of researchers at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, has succeeded in making an integrated circuit (IC) from just a monolayer of a semiconducting polymer via a bottom-up, self-assembly approach.

In the self-assembly process, the semiconducting polymer arranges itself into an ordered monolayer in a transistor. The transistors are binary switches used...

Im Focus: Demonstration of a single molecule piezoelectric effect

Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale

Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...

Im Focus: Hybrid optics bring color imaging using ultrathin metalenses into focus

For photographers and scientists, lenses are lifesavers. They reflect and refract light, making possible the imaging systems that drive discovery through the microscope and preserve history through cameras.

But today's glass-based lenses are bulky and resist miniaturization. Next-generation technologies, such as ultrathin cameras or tiny microscopes, require...

Im Focus: Stem cell divisions in the adult brain seen for the first time

Scientists from the University of Zurich have succeeded for the first time in tracking individual stem cells and their neuronal progeny over months within the intact adult brain. This study sheds light on how new neurons are produced throughout life.

The generation of new nerve cells was once thought to taper off at the end of embryonic development. However, recent research has shown that the adult brain...

Im Focus: Interference as a new method for cooling quantum devices

Theoretical physicists propose to use negative interference to control heat flow in quantum devices. Study published in Physical Review Letters

Quantum computer parts are sensitive and need to be cooled to very low temperatures. Their tiny size makes them particularly susceptible to a temperature...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

2nd International Conference on High Temperature Shape Memory Alloys (HTSMAs)

15.02.2018 | Event News

Aachen DC Grid Summit 2018

13.02.2018 | Event News

How Global Climate Policy Can Learn from the Energy Transition

12.02.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Researchers invent tiny, light-powered wires to modulate brain's electrical signals

21.02.2018 | Life Sciences

The “Holy Grail” of peptide chemistry: Making peptide active agents available orally

21.02.2018 | Life Sciences

Atomic structure of ultrasound material not what anyone expected

21.02.2018 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>