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  • Ranveer Jain

The Beauty of Neutron Stars

Our vast space is filled with objects unknown, and it is impossible for us to explore it in its entirety. It contains planets, satellites, comets, meteors, black holes, galaxies and stars and is the most beautiful too. Stars form a significant part of our universe and are of several types and sizes. One such unique star is a neutron star.

A star has its life cycle from where it starts as a nebula and ends into white dwarfs. The larger stars however, much bigger than our sun, may transform into black holes or a neutron star upon death.

They are born within the clouds of dust and scattered throughout most galaxies. Turbulence deep within these clouds gives rise to knots with sufficient mass that the gas and dust can begin to collapse under its own gravitational attraction causing the material at the centre to heat up, forming the core of a star.

Nuclear fusion of hydrogen to form helium deep in the interiors of stars keeps them alive. The outflow of energy from the central regions of the star provides the pressure necessary to keep the star from collapsing under its own weight, and the energy by which it shines. Thus, the life of a star is the balancing act between the inward push of its gravity and the outward push of the nuclear reactions.

When it has fused all the hydrogen in its core, nuclear reactions cease and the core begins to collapse into itself and becomes much hotter. Hydrogen is still available outside the core, so hydrogen fusion continues in a shell surrounding the core.

In this stage, if the star is massive having a core of about 1.4 to 3 solar masses, it forms a neutron star. The collapse continues until electrons and protons combine to form neutrons under such high pressure, producing a sea of neutrons. These stars are incredibly dense having a similar density to that of an atomic nucleus.

Due to containing so much mass packed into such a small volume, the gravitation at the surface of a neutron star is immense. It is as though the mass of the entire Sun is crammed into a small area such as New York City. The density thus is very high, and a volume of a neutron star equivalent to the volume of a sugar cube would weigh about 1 trillion kilograms when brought to earth. Therefore its force of gravity is so high that almost half the speed of light is required to escape it.

An effect of such high gravitational influence is the hitting of gas stripped from companion planets on the neutron star's surface at speeds as great as millions of miles an hour creating powerful firework displays in X-ray light.

Some other phenomena related to neutron stars are gamma-ray bursts that occur when a neutron star collides with another neutron star or possibly a black hole!

So overall, neutron stars are quite ubiquitous among many transients that we can observe and are one of the most powerful stars in our universe.

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