From SLAC Today – “Phrase of the Week: Neutron Star”

One of the best features of SLAC Today is the “Phrase of the Week series”.

Neutron Star

May 4, 2012
Diane Rezendes Khirallah

“Neutron stars are the forensic evidence of the deaths of giant stars. Formed in the aftermath of a stellar collapse, neutron stars are thought to be the densest objects in the universe and the closest thing to a black hole that astronomers can observe directly.

Neutron stars are massive, yet compact. Typically just 10 miles across, a neutron star is so dense that a sugar cube’s worth would weigh as much as 100 million tons (think of Mt. Shasta jammed into a space the size of a sugar cube.)

How they form
Once a massive star runs out of nuclear fuel and explodes in a supernova, the core of the original star collapses under gravity. During the collapse, any protons associated with electrons combine to become neutrons, and in the continuing collapse these form a neutron star.

However, not all supernovae give birth to neutron stars. If the original star is too massive, it becomes a black hole. The perfect star mass for neutron star formation seems to be around 8 to 20 times the mass of our sun.”

See the full article here.

In Chandra’s image (above), the colors of red, green, and blue are mapped to low, medium, and high-energy X-rays. At the center, the bright blue dot is likely the neutron star that astronomers believe formed when the star exploded.

SLAC is a multi-program laboratory exploring frontier questions in photon science, astrophysics, particle physics and accelerator research. Located in Menlo Park, California, SLAC is operated by Stanford University for the DOE’s Office of Science.