The strongest material in the universe has been discovered: nuclear pasta from neutron stars. The material is so intense it could never exist on Earth—if somehow a tiny amount were transported here, it would explode like a nuclear bomb. Instead it can be found deep inside the crust of the smallest, densest known stars, scientists have discovered via computer simulations.
Matthew Caplan, a postdoctoral research fellow at McGill University, and colleagues have had their findings on nuclear pasta accepted for publication in the journal Physical Review Letters.
Neutron stars form when the core of a massive star collapses under the weight of its own gravity. What emerges is a star that has around double the mass of the Sun crammed into a 20km-wide sphere. According to NASA, a sugar cube-sized piece of a neutron star would weigh about the same as Mount Everest.
Because of the immense gravity, the outer layers of neutron stars freeze solid to form a crust that surrounds a liquid core. Below the crust, protons and neutrons compete and end up forming long cylindrical shapes or flat planes. These have become known as “spaghetti” and “lasagne”—or nuclear pasta.
Scientists know nuclear pasta exists from observations of neutron stars—the pressure from the gravity is too high for anything other than a solid crust to form.