The tiny giants in our Universe

Stars more than 10 times as massive as the sun transfer material in the form of stellar wind. The material flows along the magnetic poles of the neutron star, creating X-ray pulsations as it is heated.


The former part of our title sounds like an oxymoron, doesn't it? Well, in fact, it isn't one. Neutron Stars are one of the harshest and powerful things present in the heavens above us. They're like a huge atomic core, kilometers in diameter (which is tiny for average stars), and mind-blowingly dense.


Now let's talk about their creation. A star is ‘living’, because of two dominant forces being a balance, its gravity and the radiation pressure generated by its fusion reaction. The gravity pushes the star inwards, and the radiation pushes it outwards. Deep under the surface of stars, and in the core, hydrogen is being fused into helium. A time is bound to reach, when the hydrogen in the core is exhausted, and if the star is of a significant size, the helium is now being fused into carbon. Carbon is fused into neon, which is then fuses into oxygen, which then leads to silicon.


A time is to be reached when the fusion reaction leads to the creation of iron, which can then no longer be fused into another element. Due to the advent of iron, fusion stops, and this leads to an imbalance in the two forces holding the star together; the outward forces of the radiation pressure, which was generated by the fusion reaction in the core cease. If the star's mass exceeds a limit of 1.4 solar masses (1.4 times the mass of sun), a cosmic disaster takes place. The outer part of the star‘s core reaches velocities of up to 71,000 km/s, as it falls inwards. Now the opposition to the collapse is minimized to the most basic forces present in a star. The gravity forces the Quantum-Mechanical repulsion of the electrons to the nucleus of an atom to overcome, and another fusion takes place. This time atoms aren't fused, but electrons and protons are fused into neutrons, which are now packed as tightly as in a nucleus.


At the same time, the star, excluding the core, is blown into space, amidst a huge supernova. The remnants are called a Neutron Star, which fully falls onto the name given to them at a meeting of the American Physical Society, as they have the most number of neutrons in them. Its mass is about 1 to 3 solar masses but the entire star is compressed into 24 kilometers wide spherical-like shape, which is smaller than the diameter of Lahore but still weighs about 500,000 times the weight of Earth! This is so dense that one cubic centimeter, which is approximately the volume that can be held by one teaspoon, contains the same mass as an iron cube of length 700 meters!


Such a large mass in such a small area, leads not only to the star having a magnanimous density but also results in a significantly strong gravitational field. An object being dropped from the height of 1 meter will be accelerated to 7200000 km/h as it hits the surface. Because of such a strong gravitational force the surface will be very smooth, all irregularities are eliminated, leaving behind protuberances of 4 millimeters of maximum length.


A concept of two neutron stars colliding, like the one discovered by LIGO in August 2017

The temperature at the surface measures around 1 million Kelvin, compared to the relatively small temperature of Sun, 5800 Kelvin. Neutron Stars have atmospheres of extremely hot plasma. The outer layer of the star is composed of iron, having a sea of delocalized electrons. There is an increase in the presence of neutrons and a decrease in the presence of electrons and protons as with every depth inside the star, until there are only neutrons present. The question of what is in the core of Neutron Stars is extremely complicated involving a lot of baseless assumptions, however we do know that it is a super-dense ultra-hot fluid, that shouldn't exactly exist under normal conditions, but the core of a neutron star isn't classified as normal.


Now let's discuss the powers of this abnormal feature of the never-ending universe. A neutron star spins very fast, about a couple of times every second. If there is a power source nearby, such as a star, the neutron star will attract mass from it, and hence will move even faster, such as the "PSRJ1748-2446ad", which spins at about 252000000 km/h, about a quarter the speed of light! Such unbelievingly fast neutron stars emit a very strong radio signal, which is why they are called Pulsars. They have a magnetic field 7.5 trillion times stronger then Earth. Due to their distance from our tiny blue marble, and their superpowers, we wouldn't be able to reach them even in a couple of light years. Whatever the case, scientists working to improve the knowledge we have about these cores of dead stars will definitely result in our better understanding of the play around us.



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