What's For Dinner? Did You Say Nuclear Pasta?!?

Scientists have recently discovered these strange noodle-like structures within neutron stars called Nuclear Pasta.
Benjamin Deaver, Contributor

(Inside Science TV) --  On a clear night you can see stars in the sky for millions of millions of miles. But not all stars are created equal. There are ones called neutron stars, and they’re the most dense objects in the universe – next to black holes of course.  

To give you some perspective, one teaspoon of a neutron star would weigh about as much as Mount Everest! Neutron stars are so unique that they form strange structures inside themselves that can resemble the pasta in your kitchen pantry. Scientists have named these structures “nuclear pasta”.

Neutron stars form when stars up to 20 times larger than our sun reach the end of their lives and explode into supernovas, leaving behind a small dense core. That core collapses under the force of gravity until almost all of the electrons and protons combine to form neutrons – hence the name neutron stars.  

After the core collapses, the neutrons and few protons left in the crust get crammed together so tightly that they arrange themselves in structures that resemble pasta shapes – like spaghetti, fusilli spirals and lasagna.

Scientists believe these strange pasta-like formations may limit how fast the stars can spin.

Nuclear pasta is impossible to study directly on earth, so physicists use computer simulations to better understand it. The simulations allow researchers to study the motion of large numbers of neutrons and protons as they interact with each other, exposing these strange but interesting pasta shapes.

This kind of pasta will never make it to your dinner plate, but scientists will continue to use simulations to better understand how the universe formed after the big bang, and help gain insight to these strange noodle-like structures. Bon appétit!

Benjamin Deaver is an Assistant Producer for Inside Science, an editorially independent news service of the American Insitute of Physics.  Benjamin is a Physics Major at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida. Follow him on Twitter @LeaveIt2Deaver.