A Galactic Phoenix-The Neutron Star



What makes a neutron star become so hot? Until now, scientists thought they knew the answer. The theory has been that the star heats itself up by a nuclear reaction inside its crust. After reviewing studies performed by Michigan State University, researchers are not quite as sure as they once were.

The research, led by Hendrik Schatz, used theoretical calculations and focused on the nuclear reactions inside the crust.  A type of energy transfer, known as the Urca process, was taking place in the second layer of the crust.

Coined by a vacationing researcher at the Rio de Janeiro casino, Cassino de Urca, the Urca process describes neutrinos carrying energy away like roulette tables carry away money.

The Urca process emits a neutrino that carries energy away from the outermost crust of a star, effectively lowering the temperature. This process has been associated with type Ia supernova, the explosion of white dwarf stars, but because the temperature is different, has never been applied to neutron stars.

The Michigan State University research calculations found that there are cooling levels in the crust of a neutron star, questioning the long-standing heat theory. The cooling levels in the crust would prevent heat from creating itself in the crust by nuclear reaction.

But, if the star’s heat does not originate with a nuclear reaction in the crust, where does the heat come from?

Scientists are now exploring new ideas about a topic that many thought was closed. These research findings showed scientists that the commonly held theory may not be correct, but the findings didn’t show them what theory was correct.

So, what exactly do scientists know about neutron stars?

A neutron star is born out of the death of its parent star sounding somewhat like the mythical tale of the phoenix, a flaming bird arising out of the ashes of its predecessors.

When massive stars explode in supernova, their outer layers burst off, leaving a small dense core. That core continues to collapse with gravity pushing down so tightly on itself that protons and electrons combine into neutrons.

This process makes the star composed almost entirely of neutrons, thus producing the name “neutron star.” The matter of a neutron star becomes so dense that, according to NASA, a teaspoon of material would weigh more than a billion tons, about the size of Mount Everest.

Each neutron star is roughly 12 miles in diameter and holds a combination of strong gravity, powerful magnetic and electrical fields and high velocities.

The gravity pull of a neutron start is about two billion times stronger than Earth’s gravity.  According to NASA, the gravity pull from a neutron star is so powerful that it can actually bend the radiation from the star in a process called gravitation lensing, allowing astronomers to see a partial back side of the star.

The high velocities associated with neutron star are caused by the power of the supernova at the star’s birth. According to NASA, a neutron star can spin as fast as 43,000 times per minute.

Neutron stars, white dwarf stars, various constellations, the Milky Way.

All seem to be the essence of galactic beauty.

Looking up at the stars in a dark night sky is peaceful, serene and relaxing. This, of course, is an opinion from trillions of miles away. From Earth, the little dots of lights in the night sky look nothing like massive, burning spheres of violent energy that they are.


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