As it turns out, the Milky Way isn’t the only cosmic entity with chocolate connotations.
More than 60 years after neutron stars were first discovered, scientists working to understand their structure finally have a perfect point of comparison: chocolate pralines.
Formed when supermassive stars collapse, neutron stars are extremely compact and dense—physicists describe them as sun-like masses compressed into a sphere the size of a large city.
Such extreme conditions cannot be replicated in the lab, so researchers have done their work to better understand what exactly makes a neutron star.
Using hundreds of thousands of so-called equations of state designed to describe the properties of stars, a team at Goethe University Frankfurt has made a discovery that gives them a delicious new reference point.
“Light” neutron stars (less than 1.7 solar masses) appear to have a soft mantle and a hard core, while “heavy” neutron stars (greater than 1.7 solar masses) have a hard mantle and a soft core.
Just to illustrate how dense neutron stars are, one solar mass is the mass of the sun, which itself is estimated to be 330,000 times the mass of Earth.
The key equation behind this discovery is the speed of sound, which measures how fast sound waves bounce around inside an object.
This will depend on how hard or soft the material is, and is used here on Earth to explore the interior of the planet and discover oil deposits.
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Professor Luciano Rezzolla, who led the University team, said: “This result is very interesting because it allows us to directly measure the compressibility at the center of a neutron star.
“Neutron stars apparently behave a bit like chocolate pralines: light stars are like those chocolates with a hazelnut in the middle surrounded by soft chocolate, while heavy stars can be thought of more like those chocolates where the hard layer contains a soft filling.”
Despite their satisfaction with their latest findings, physicists say neutron stars still harbor many mysteries, including their exact structure and composition.