Merging Neutron Stars and Emerging Particle Tracks

New Insights Into Neutron Star Matter: Combining Heavy-Ion Experiments and Nuclear Theory

Artist’s rendering showing the simulation of two merging neutron stars (left) and the emerging particle tracks that can be seen in a heavy-ion collision (right) that creates matter under similar conditions in the laboratory. Credit: Tim Dietrich, Arnaud Le Fevre, Kees Huyser; background: ESA/Hubble, Sloan Digital Sky Survey

Combining heavy-ion experiments, astrophysical observations, and nuclear theory.

When a massive star explodes in a supernova, if it isn’t completely destroyed, it will leave behind either a black hole or a

Neutron stars are formed when a giant star runs out of fuel and collapses. They are among the densest objects in the cosmos, with a single cube sized piece weighing 1 billion tons (1 trillion kg.)

Throughout the Universe, neutron stars are born in supernova explosions that mark the end of the life of massive stars. Sometimes neutron stars are bound in binary systems and will eventually collide with each other. These high-energy, astrophysical phenomena feature such extreme conditions that they produce most of the heavy elements, such as silver and gold. Consequently, neutron stars and their collisions are unique laboratories to study the properties of matter at densities far beyond the densities inside atomic nuclei. Heavy-ion collision experiments conducted with particle accelerators are a complementary way to produce and probe matter at high densities and under extreme conditions.

New insights into the fundamental interactions at play in nuclear matter

“Combining knowledge from nuclear theory, nuclear experiment, and astrophysical observations is essential to shedding light on the properties of neutron-rich matter over the entire density range probed in neutron stars,” said Sabrina Huth, Institute for Nuclear Physics at Technical University Darmstadt, who is one of the lead authors of the publication. Peter T. H. Pang, another lead author from the Institute for Gravitational and Subatomic Physics (GRASP), Utrecht University, added, “We find that constraints from collisions of gold ions with particle accelerators show a remarkable consistency with astrophysical observations even though they are obtained with completely different methods.”

Neutron Star Artist’s Depiction

Artist’s depiction of a neutron star. Credit: ESO / L. Calçada

Recent progress in multi-messenger astronomy allowed the international research team, involving researchers from Germany, the Netherlands, the US, and Sweden to gain new insights to the fundamental interactions at play in nuclear matter. In an interdisciplinary effort, the researchers included information obtained in heavy-ion collisions into a framework combining astronomical observations of electromagnetic signals, measurements of

Reference: “Constraining neutron-star matter with microscopic and macroscopic collisions” by Sabrina Huth, Peter T. H. Pang, Ingo Tews, Tim Dietrich, Arnaud Le Fèvre, Achim Schwenk, Wolfgang Trautmann, Kshitij Agarwal, Mattia Bulla, Michael W. Coughlin and Chris Van Den Broeck, 8 June 2022, Nature.
DOI: 10.1038/s41586-022-04750-w

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