Underneath the crust of spinning neutron stars, there’s a material that is not only strong, but looks like pasta? Nuclear pasta to be exact. Here’s what else scientists know.
It turns out the strongest material in the universe isn’t steel, it isn’t graphene, and it’s not even that ever-so fictional vibranium. It’s….pasta? Nuclear pasta to be exact. It is a material so dense that it’s approximately 10 billion times stronger than steel. Scientists have named it after their favorite food.
It all has to do with neutron stars. A neutron star is what’s left after a massive star explodes into a supernova--it’s essentially the small, leftover, burnt-out core of that explosion, about 20 kilometers wide, extremely dense, and collapsing in on itself. The inner part of the star actually collapses so much that some of its electrons and protons get squeezed together to form more neutrons. Hence the name “neutron star”. The density part is key here. Neutron stars are so dense that a single teaspoon of them would weigh a billion tons. So if you were to dig about a kilometer below the surface of a neutron star, what do you think you’d find?
New scientific work has simulated just that. The pressure inside a neutron star is so extreme that the material inside clumps together in unique patterns, many of which are vaguely reminiscent of pasta shapes...which is what they’re named after. You’ve got your gnocchi, which looks like little blobs, and its inverse, the anti gnocchi. Long string-like tubes are called spaghetti and anti spaghetti, there’s the good old sheet-like lasagna, and….waffles? That’s a little outside the pasta family, but I’ll take it.