What does the inside of a neutron star — the incredibly dense remnant of an evolved star — look like? New observations of one of the most massive neutron stars provide some clues.
Neutron stars represent some of the most extreme environments in the universe. [Kevin Gill]With the mass of multiple Suns packed into the rough size of a city, neutron stars represent one of the most dense, exotic environments in the universe. We can’t create an equivalent environment on Earth, so we rely on theoretical models — constrained by observations — to understand how matter behaves under these extreme circumstances.
Different theoretical models predict different interior structures for neutron stars, each described by an equation of state. In turn, each equation of state predicts a different maximum mass that a neutron star can reach before the overwhelming crush of gravity causes it to collapse into a black hole.
The heaviest neutron stars we spot in the universe, then, can help us to set upper limits and rule out some equations of state, narrowing down which models of neutron star interiors are most likely.
The catch? Measuring the precise masses of objects located thousands of light-years away is ...