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Within a neutron star—the remains of an exploded, middle-weight star—pressures climb a billion billion times higher than in the sun’s core. For decades, some theoretical physicists have speculated that under those conditions, a bizarre type of matter might emerge: a soup of the subatomic particles called quarks. Now, a new analysis indicates the recipe for that soup, called cold quark matter, needs revision. If correct, it suggests that particle accelerators on Earth might be able to produce stable bits of the quark matter. It also would put the kibosh on hypothetical particles called strangelets, which fearmongers once claimed could destroy the world.
“It’s a speculative argument, but there is nothing obviously wrong with it,” says Robert Pisarski, a nuclear theorist at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York, who was not involved in the work.
Atomic - Consist - Protons - Neutrons - Trios
Atomic nuclei consist of protons and neutrons, which themselves consist of trios of up and down quarks—two of the particles’ six “flavors”—bound tightly by the strong nuclear force. Since the 1970s, some theorists have predicted that under extreme pressures like those in the hearts of neutron stars, quarks might break free of their strong-force chains to create a soup of cold quark matter. They also predicted that the soup’s ingredients would differ from those of protons and neutrons. Their calculations suggested that to minimize its energy, quark matter should include a third flavor of quarks known as strange quarks.
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Even though strange quarks emerge only fleetingly, usually in collisions at particle accelerators, calculations suggested that such strange quark matter might have a lower energy than ordinary nuclear matter has. That means that specks of strange quark matter, or strangelets, could be...
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