back to article Holy macaroni! After months of number-crunching, behold the strongest material in the universe: Nuclear pasta

Good luck sinking your teeth into nuclear pasta. For one it’ll be tricky to get a hold of since it’s the stuff lodged inside neutron stars. Additionally, it may also be the universe’s strongest material. Neutron stars are the cores leftover from dead stars that have already shed their gaseous layers in a supernova explosion. …

  1. Oh Homer
    Coat

    Nuclear pasta

    Sounds like my spicy bolognese.

    Coincidentally, this also causes the shedding of gaseous layers.

    1. DCFusor

      Re: Nuclear pasta

      OF course this is utterly bogus. A gram of iron, say made into a sheet, in space has strengh x per gram.

      A gram of neutron star material out in space would more or less instantly be a cloud of expanding and beta-decaying neutrons with zero strength. Ending up as a puff of mostly ionized hydrogen and a few low energy gamma photons.

      Doh, it's well known and studied in labs that things under crazy high pressures act differently while under those pressures. Not that it has any use other than study of matter *under those conditions*.

      For example, we can make some things superconductive under high pressures at higher than the normal transition temperatures. But they don't stay that way with the pressure off.

      So the above is yet another science press release exercise in click bait. Real scientists are getting tired of this, as it tends to devalue and discredit the few real things we mange to accomplish.

      1. Jay Lenovo
        Trollface

        Re: Nuclear pasta

        This nuclear pasta analogy lacks any salt to be good

        1. onefang

          Re: Nuclear pasta

          That was a tasteless troll.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What about degenerate matter quark stars?

    I know they're theoretical (though honestly so are neutron stars) but they'd be much more dense than neutron stars.

    1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson

      Re: What about degenerate matter quark stars?

      Pulsars fit the bill of observed neutron stars: objects of over 1.5 solar masses, no larger than a 20-30 km. The best explanation that fits the laws of physics is that they are spinning neutron stars. Therefore I wouldn't say that neutron stars are purely theoretical.

    2. Jedit
      Joke

      Re: What about degenerate matter quark stars?

      If we're calling this stuff in neutron stars "nuclear pasta", I insist we name anything similar found in degenerate matter quark stars "pizza with pineapple". It's roughly the same origin, but it's degenerate.

      1. onefang

        Re: What about degenerate matter quark stars?

        '"pizza with pineapple". It's roughly the same origin, but it's degenerate.'

        I actually like pineapple on pizza. I even add it to meat eaters pizzas.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What about degenerate matter quark stars?

      Sure, pulsars fit the bill of neutron stars. They also fit the bill of quark stars. How do we tell them apart? I mean, basically a quark star would be a somewhat more massive neutron star that gets crunched a bit smaller, and therefore spins a bit faster...

  3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Given that they consist of nothing but neutrons & protons in a single structure I'd have thought they counted as a single atomic nucleus. Just add electrons for a complete atom.

  4. FozzyBear
    Happy

    I wonder what the reaction would be to a healthy dose of anti pasto

  5. Spoonsinger

    squeezed into a tiny radius on the order of 10 kilometres (6.2 miles),

    Why not 9.65606Km? Then it would be a nice round 6 miles. A much more believable finger in the air number.

    1. Mage Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: squeezed into a tiny radius on the order of 10 kilometres (6.2 miles),

      "Then it would be a nice round 6 miles. A much more believable finger in the air number."

      If you are American?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: squeezed into a tiny radius on the order of 10 kilometres (6.2 miles),

      "A much more believable finger in the air number."

      It's not a finger in the air number, it's derived from the physics of degenerate matter (very dense matter that no longer consists of atoms, but of free protons, electrons and neutrons.)

      A white dwarf will only form a neutron star if its core has a mass greater than approximately 1.4 solar masses, as gravitational forces can then overcome the electron degeneracy pressure* that prevents protons and electrons from combining to form neutrons.

      Also, a neutron star cannot have a mass greater than approximately 2.2 solar masses, otherwise gravitational forces will be strong enough to overcome the neutron degeneracy pressure and cause neutrons to collapse into quark degenerate matter (theoretically) or a black hole.

      Neutrons are relatively massive particles, so are packed very closely together once they collapse into degenerate matter. Given we know the approximate upper and lower limits of a neutron star's mass, as well as a good idea of its density, we can state with some degree of confidence that its radius will be in the order of 10km.

      *Degeneracy pressure is nothing to do with troublesome yoofs hanging around at the bus stop, it's pressure that stops particles getting closer together, due to the exclusion principle.

      1. Spoonsinger

        Re: radius will be in the order of 10km.

        or 9.65606Km because it's more accurate. (just look at all the digits after the dot).

  6. Nick Kew
    Alien

    Pastafarian

    Have you just beheld His Divine Noodliness?

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Pastafarian

      Have you just beheld His Divine Noodliness?

      I was under the impression that this is forbidden to us mere mortals. Am I wrong?

      1. veti Silver badge

        Re: Pastafarian

        Science doesn't acknowledge "forbidden". There is only "possible" and "impossible", and the line between those categories moves from time to time.

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Pastafarian

          Forbidden? Nope. We even have video, praise His Noodly Appendage.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Pastafarian

          > Science doesn't acknowledge "forbidden".

          Perhaps not, but nuclear physicists are wont to call some atomic actions "forbidden" from time to time anyway.

          https://www.britannica.com/science/forbidden-transition

          1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

            Re: Pastafarian

            Ramen.

    2. Efer Brick
      Linux

      Re: Pastafarian

      Only through the colander of faith!

      1. onefang

        Re: Pastafarian

        Finally! We have scientific proof of a religion! That makes it the One Tru religion! All the others can suck my meaty balls.

  7. Belize

    Always used to be buckminsterfullerene

    I guess carbonara waste of time.

    Sorry.

    1. Locky

      Re: Always used to be buckminsterfullerene

      That pun was soba-d

  8. ThatOne Silver badge
    WTF?

    Sorry, what?

    > the competing forces between protons and neutrons

    Why, I thought those two got along quite well (neutrons being neutral and all), even snuggling together inside most nuclei. Someone please explain to me what those "competing forces" actually are?

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Sorry, what?

      The competing forces are Marketing. Enough said.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Sorry, what?

      > "Someone please explain to me what those "competing forces" actually are?"

      There aren't any of the type described. From Wikipedia:

      "Most of the basic models for these objects imply that neutron stars are composed almost entirely of neutrons (subatomic particles with no net electrical charge and with slightly larger mass than protons); the electrons and protons present in normal matter combine to produce neutrons at the conditions in a neutron star."

      So neutron stars are made of, well.. neutrons. Go figure.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Sorry, what?

      AFAIK, those forces are what that avoids it collapse into a black hole. Also AFAIK, the density is far higher than in a nucleus, so they exhibit behaviours not normally found in atoms - like the peculiar structures this calculations found.

    4. GrumpenKraut Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: Sorry, what?

      > ...what those "competing forces" actually are?

      Electromagnetic force driving apart versus strong force binding. See also fundamental forces (there are four: gravitational, electromagnetic, strong, and weak).

      1. Skwosh

        Re: Sorry, what?

        On 'why are there protons at all'? I think that is a good question given the usual description of a neutron star as a thing that is made of neutrons. However, having taken a quick look at the paper, I learn the following cool (theorised) stuff:

        "The crust comprises the outermost kilometer of the NS [...] The outer crust is a bcc lattice of nuclei embedded in a gas of degenerate electrons, which becomes increasingly neutron rich with depth. At the base of the inner crust the separation between nuclei becomes comparable to nuclei radii and nucleons rearrange themselves into complex shapes known as nuclear pasta."

        So, in the crusty bit, there are still thought to be things resembling what we would recognise as nuclei, and so there will be protons around.

        On 'what are the forces'? That is also a good question since at least in the non-crust neutron only part of a neutron star you'd expect there to be just attractive nuclear forces – and so why wouldn't the thing just keep on collapsing. The received wisdom is that although the nuclear forces make the neutrons really really really want to stick together as closely as possible this attraction is resisted by what is called degeneracy pressure – this is a quantum mechanical (QM) effect and is a consequence of what is often called the exclusion principle. The exclusion principle is everywhere in Nature – so as well as holding up neutron stars it is also what stops all the electrons in an atom collapsing to the same (lowest) energy level and forces them instead to occupy higher and higher energies – and thus gives us all of chemistry, and all of life etc.

        All that off the back of one (comparatively) simple QM rule that has absolutely no underlying explanation whatsoever but if you assume it is true then everything fits wonderfully.

        Got to love QM. It's the law (since, currently, there is no alternative).

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
          Happy

          Re: Sorry, what?

          So it's a bit like an overcooked ready-meal lasagne. Massively dense and unpleasant with a very thick, hard crust. And full of horse degenerate matter...

    5. Cuddles Silver badge

      Re: Sorry, what?

      "Why, I thought those two got along quite well (neutrons being neutral and all), even snuggling together inside most nuclei. Someone please explain to me what those "competing forces" actually are?"

      There are several of them. Firstly, protons and neutrons aren't fundamental particles, they're composites made up of quarks. Neutrons have zero total charge, but if you try to jam two of them inside each other you start having to worry about how the internal charged parts react to each other (and there are no neutral quarks). It's essentially the same as how neutral molecules can become polarised and attract or repel each other.

      Secondly, as far as we're aware gravity is the only force that is always attractive. The strong force is attractive only above a certain distance, once you get too close it actually becomes repulsive instead. This is why atomic nuclei don't simply collapse into black holes - the protons and neutrons can only get so close before they start being pushed apart again.

      Finally, degeneracy pressure, as mentioned already, is caused by fermions being unable to occupy identical quantum states - essentially meaning you can't have two neutrons in exactly the same place with the same energy at the same time. This can be viewed as similar to electron shells in atoms - once you've filled the inner shell, any extra electrons will have to go in a shell further out; the outer shells have higher energy, so some input is required to actually get them there and that appears the same as pressure forcing them out. The same thing happens in pretty much anything involving quantum states - some of those states have lower energy than others and tend to fill up first; once they're full the exclusion principle stops anything else getting in there as well and forces them to occupy higher energy states instead.

  9. Frumious Bandersnatch
    Coat

    I love physics

    String theory in particular seems to be a case of "throw it at the wall and see what sticks". (same for dark matter, but I'm not going to root out the wine-dark honeyed centres here—it's a load of Bologne)

    (oh, and yea, it was prophesied and so his noodly appendages came to manifest and such)

    Where's my hat?

    1. frank ly

      Re: I love physics

      "throw it at the wall and see what sticks"

      Same for pasta.

      1. LDS Silver badge

        "throw it at the wall and see what sticks"

        Only degenerate pasta will stick... you can obtain it transferring too much energy to it by boiling it for too long. It's quite difficult to find it in Italy, degenerate pasta is far more common in other parts of the universe.

  10. MacroRodent Silver badge
    Alien

    It's alive!

    > "One famous example are biological membranes in living cells. We've actually studied how the nuclear pasta lasagna exhibits the same structure and structural defects as the endoplasmic reticulum.

    Maybe the premise of Robert L. Forward's "Dragon's Egg" is not so fanciful after all. It involves life on a neutron star, based on nucleonic processes, which are way faster than chemical ones. So entire civilizations rise and fall during the few days humans observe the star from orbit.

    1. hplasm
      Happy

      Re: It's alive!

      Damn- beat me to it...

  11. TRT Silver badge

    But...

    could it be used to create a star drive? Maybe a gravity footprint drive of some kind. Made out of pasta.

    1. richardcox13
      Coat

      Re: But...

      Sounds like a good start for (re)inventing bistromathematics.

      (And messing up The Ashes.)

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: But...

        I was thinking more about Utopia, but yes, also the bistromathic drive... pass the pepper grinder, will you?

  12. Korev Silver badge
    Boffin

    Units?

    the pasta's shear modulus is about 1030 ergs per cm3, and has a breaking strain greater than 0.1.

    All very nice, but what is it in El Reg Linguine?

    1. onefang

      Re: Units?

      Dunno, but that's gonna be damn hard to bite through.

    2. 2+2=5 Silver badge

      Re: Units?

      I wondered why the units were CGS rather than SI? Is it just convention for this area of work?

      Edit: I see later an AC has helpfully provided the conversion. Ta.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Scrith?

    Well, probably not seeing that nuclear pasta can presumably only exist under very exotic conditions.

    And talking about exotic, why the ergs and cm? Whatever happened to good ol' SI?

  14. Stoneshop Silver badge
    Holmes

    making them the densest objects in the known universe.

    No, that's Trump's brain

    1. Dippywood

      Re: making them the densest objects in the known universe.

      Trump's head contains vacuum.

      So dense that he is not even air-headed - the Trump Dichotomy.

    2. LDS Silver badge

      Re: making them the densest objects in the known universe.

      Trump's brain is a singularity.

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: making them the densest objects in the known universe.

        With an electrostatic charge, going off the effect it has on his hair.

    3. This post has been deleted by its author

  15. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "How large a mountain can you build on a neutron star"

    Given that the neutron star's surface has a variance of just a few micrometers, and that if you drop something from just 1m high it will hit the surface at 1,400 km/s, I think you'll find that you're never getting to build a mountain on a neutron star.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I really want to see Nuclear Pasta Screen written on mobile phone boxes.

    1. DropBear

      I want to see a Space Elevator built out of the stuff... if this isn't strong enough, we might as well shelve the idea indefinitely.

  17. Rich 11 Silver badge

    It's like comparing parsecs to kilometres

    More like parsecs to centimetres.

  18. Rainer

    I bet

    it's pretty much bullet-proof.

    1. Wellyboot Silver badge

      Re: I bet

      Bullet proof? Oh Yes, and at any visible thickness a pasta vest would probably weigh more than this planet given the densities involved.

      The question should be 'Could a similar structure (even a billion times poorer) be manufactured and stable at Earths comparatively feeble gravity?

  19. Simon Brady

    A fitting tribute

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Pasta

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "...making them the densest objects in the known universe."

    I'd disagree with that - damagement at my former employers would have it beaten.

  21. Roger Kynaston Silver badge
    Coat

    Kilometres and parsecs

    "So nuclear pasta is in another league compared to our planet's materials. It's like comparing parsecs to kilometres."

    So how does this relate the Kessel run?

    Mine is the one that will make .5 past light speed. And, sorry, it had to be done.

    1. onefang

      Re: Kilometres and parsecs

      It's how many nuclear linguini's you need to eat while doing the Kessel run. That's hard work, mans gotta keep his energy levels up.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    El Reg units in action?

    "the pasta's shear modulus is about 10^30 ergs per cm^3"

    Argh..... What is so wrong with using normal units (GPa) as the unit for the shear modulus? Is it because 10^20 GPa sounds less impressive, or is it just to make the comparison with normal engineering materials a bit harder?

    For the record, the shear modulus of most steel types is in the region of 77 GPa to 79 GPa, so you're going to have trouble eating corn on the cob after trying to bite through this pasta.

    In fact, you could easily build a pasta based space elevator in the style of one of those "how tall can you build a tower out of dried spaghetti" competitions. That is, of course if the compressive and shear *strengths* are any good. I think the compressive strength is a given though...

  23. Ian Michael Gumby
    Alien

    Talk to Larry Niven...

    Can you say Ringworld? Ringworld Engineers?

    I get that while Larry Niven’s stories had discussed this material, these guys actually simulated it. BTW, good luck in trying to mine it... ;-)

    But I have to ask... the simulation is based on the material as it is within a Neutron Star, or assuming that they could actually manufacture or mine it... would it react the same outside of the effects of a Neutron Star? Would it lose its liquidity?

    Alien because of the Pak Protector reference.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Talk to Larry Niven...

      Dammit, Gumby, the Pak weren't alien. They were our ancestors.

      For mining the cores of stars, see EE Smith's "Skylark" series. (Pretty dreadful space opera junk that definitely shows it's age, but readable nonetheless.)

      1. Ian Michael Gumby
        Boffin

        Re: Talk to Larry Niven...

        They were aliens.

        Read all of his stories regarding the Protector and the Pak.

        Aliens also meaning extraterrestrial as well as a different species.

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Talk to Larry Niven...

          But in that storyline the Pak, although extraterrestrial, were what we call Homo habilis and the ancestors of all the Great Apes on Earth. Including humans. Would you consider your Great Grandfather an alien?

          1. Ian Michael Gumby
            Joke

            Re: Talk to Larry Niven...

            Yes. Were he to enter in to the US illegally, I'd call him an illegal alien.

            Extraterrestrial ? Yes to that too.

            IIRC other species could become Pak due to the bacteria found in the root. I'll have to re-read Ringworld Engineers some time when I get the chance. FFS I think its been over 15 years since I read that.

            BTW, Larry Niven is on LinkedIn. ;-)

  24. This post has been deleted by its author

  25. 89724102172714182892114I7551670349743096734346773478647892349863592355648544996312855148587659264921 Bronze badge

    Best novel about life on a Neutron Star ever, "Dragon's Egg" by Robert L Forward (Physicist):

    https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/263466.Dragon_s_Egg

  26. Alistair
    Windows

    Hang on a moment folks, I think I left my notes at the other end of my integral tree.

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