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Beyond Earthly Skies

Ultra-Dense Ocean on a Neutron Star

23 Jul 2014, 22:00 UTC
Ultra-Dense Ocean on a Neutron Star NASA / Goddard Space Flight Centre / Dana Berry
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A neutron star is an ultra-dense remnant core leftover from the violent demise of a massive star. It packs roughly as much mass as the Sun in an incredibly tiny volume measuring just several kilometres across. A spoonful of its material would contain a mass of roughly a billion tons. If the neutron star has a sufficiently close stellar companion, it can strip material from the companion in a process known as accretion. The accreted material can lead to the formation of an ocean on the neutron star. This ultra-dense and exotic ocean is comprised of elements with atomic number Z = 6 and larger. Most of these elements are formed from nuclear burning of the accreted hydrogen and helium from the companion star. Here, the ions behave like a liquid, hence the term “ocean”. Nonetheless, it is in no way like the oceans on Earth. The densities, pressures and temperatures are so extreme that they are only comprehensible numerically.Figure 1: Artist’s impression of an accreting neutron star. Material stripped from the companion star forms an accretion disk around the neutron star. Image credit: NASA / Goddard Space Flight Centre / Dana Berry.The ability to observe the sky in X-rays ...

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