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Strange Matter

March 10, 2022

The old adage about truth being stranger than fiction certainly applies to astronomy. The universe is filled with strange stuff, from black holes to pulsars to dark matter. There’s also strange matter — a form of matter that may be forged under the extreme pressure found in the hearts of neutron stars.

A neutron star is the collapsed core of a supergiant star that exploded as a supernova. It’s more massive than the Sun but only as big as a city. A chunk the size of a sugar cube weighs a billion tons.

Under that incredible pressure, protons and neutrons may fall apart, leaving only their “building blocks,” known as up and down quarks. And if the neutron star is especially heavy, some of the down quarks could be transformed into strange quarks — the basic components of strange matter.

Like a virus, if any strange matter forms, it might quickly “infect” all the matter around it — converting everything to strange matter. So all but the crust of a neutron star could be made of strange matter — making it a strange star. If such a star rammed into a companion neutron star, it could become a strange star as well. And if the collision sent parts of the stars flying into space, they might form strange-matter planets.

No one has discovered any strange stars, although there are hints of strange planets. And strange matter is extremely hard to produce here on Earth. So we can’t be sure whether strange stars are truth or fiction.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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