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The Strongest Material In The Universe Could Be The Mysterious ‘Nuclear Pasta’

Sep 17, 2018 10:09 PM EDT
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Pasta is delicious, but not very strong — unless it’s nuclear pasta. The eerie substance found in the husks of dead stars is the most formidable material in existence with a new study saying it’s 10 billion times stronger than steel.
(Photo : Pixabay)

Nuclear pasta doesn't sound too intimidating, but the strange substance that's believed to come from dead stars is much stronger than one would think.

Specifically, scientists suggest that the so-called nuclear pasta is the strongest known material in the entire universe.

The Ultra-Strong 'Nuclear Pasta'

In a study accepted for publication in the journal Physical Review Letters, a team of researchers discussed the incredible strength of the cosmic substance. Nuclear pasta is reportedly 10 billion times stronger than steel.

"This is a crazy-big figure, but the material is also very, very dense, so that helps make it stronger," Charles Horowitz, study coauthor and a physicist from the Indiana University Bloomington, explains in Science News.

The mysterious substance is believed to be 100 trillion times denser than water, making it impossible to study in the laboratory. So, the scientists used computer simulations to stretch nuclear pasta into sheets and analyze the behavior of the material.

They found that the force required to deform and break the nuclear pasta is much greater than the force needed to do the same to any other known material. 

While the outer crust of a neutron star has previously been shown to be stronger than steel, it's the first time that the inner crust has been observed in depth. 

How 'Nuclear Pasta' Forms

Neutron stars form when a dying star explodes. Rich in neutrons as the name suggests, these stellar remnants are squeezed by extremely powerful gravitational forces.

As one gets closer to the center of the neutron star, the atomic nuclei are squished tighter and tighter together until they create strange clumps of nuclear matter. The matter are thought to be deformed and shaped similarly to the different pasta types such as gnocchi, noodles, and the like.

Proving The Existence Of The Pasta

Nuclear pasta has not yet been observed in the real world, but this new study offers hope to scientists who are on the lookout.

The only way to closely observe a neutron star is by the gravitational waves it emits, which only occurs when the star's crust has lumps called "mountains." The larger the mountain, the better chances there are of spotting more powerful waves. In the case of neutron stars, though, large mountains measure only a couple of centimeters high.

The study simulations suggest that nuclear pasta are strong enough to support mountains that are tens of centimeters high, which is enough to produce waves that the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory or LIGO could spot.

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