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'Nuclear Pasta' Could Affect How Fast Neutron Stars Spin

Something called "nuclear pasta" could affect the properties of a neutron star, including how fast that star spins.

New research suggests that nuclear pasta possibly plays a role in a neutron star's conductivity, which causes the degrading of the star's magnetic field, in turn affecting the stars' spin rate.

Neutron stars are massive stars with high densities, with most of that density inside their cores. However, there is more conventional matter on a neutron star's outer edges. Nuclear pasta acts as a middle layer, or crust, holding these two areas of matter together.

Nuclear pasta is so-named because of the variety of shapes that it takes and comes with classifications much like the pasta we eat: there is lasagna nuclear pasta, penne nuclear pasta and gnocchi nuclear pasta.

These shapes, though, are more than just fun names. Nuclear pasta could be the key to understanding how neutron stars work, as well as lending an understanding to their unique features.

This new study suggests that some nuclear pasta have defective shapes and that these defects could affect the conductivity of neutron stars to the point that the star's crust cools down, which causes its magnetic field to fall apart.

"We have discovered possible defects that may exist in the otherwise regular nuclear pasta shapes, and these defects could decrease the electrical and thermal conductivity of neutron stars," says C.J. Horowitz from Indiana University.

The magnetic field of a neutron star is important because it helps regulate the neutron star's spin. Neutron stars spin fast, at about 700 times per second, but the star's magnetic field applies force to the star so that its spin slows down.

In simulations, researchers studied how defects in nuclear pasta affect a neutron star's conductivity. Computer models of neutron stars with defective nuclear pasta showed light curves indicating a cooler crust on the star, which in turn causes the magnetic field to decay and keeps the neutron star spinning faster than it would if its crust were warmer.

These observations confirm a particular neutron star observed by the Chandra X-ray telescope.

Researchers believe, though, that defects in nuclear pasta affect neutron stars in other ways and hope to continue investigating. Considering that it's a lot easier to observe a neutron star, because of the radiation it emits that we can pick up with our telescopes, we could learn a lot more about black holes in the process.

"We hope to learn how matter behaves when compressed to its densest form, just this side of collapsing into a black hole," says Horowitz.

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