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 Physics boosts artificial intelligence methods
19.10.2017 | California Institute of Technology

nachricht NASA team finds noxious ice cloud on saturn's moon titan
19.10.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

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: Neutron star merger directly observed for the first time

University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event

On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...

Im Focus: Breaking: the first light from two neutron stars merging

Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.

Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....

Im Focus: Smart sensors for efficient processes

Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).

When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...

Im Focus: Cold molecules on collision course

Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.

How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...

Im Focus: Shrinking the proton again!

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.

It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ASEAN Member States discuss the future role of renewable energy

17.10.2017 | Event News

World Health Summit 2017: International experts set the course for the future of Global Health

10.10.2017 | Event News

Climate Engineering Conference 2017 Opens in Berlin

10.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Electrode materials from the microwave oven

19.10.2017 | Materials Sciences

New material for digital memories of the future

19.10.2017 | Materials Sciences

Physics boosts artificial intelligence methods

19.10.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>