Neutron Stars

Neutron Stars

When a massive star explodes, its scrunched up core forms something called a neutron star.

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Neutron stars are city-size stellar objects with a mass of about 1.4 times that of the sun. Born from the explosive death of another, larger stars, these tiny objects pack quite a punch.

When stars four to eight times as massive as the sun explodes in a violent supernova, their outer layers can blow off in an often-spectacular display, leaving behind a small, dense core that continues to collapse. Gravity presses the material in on itself so tightly that protons and electrons combine to make neutrons, yielding the name "neutron star."

Neutron stars pack their mass inside a 20-kilometer (12.4 miles) diameter. They are so dense that a single teaspoon would weigh a billion tons — assuming you somehow managed to snag a sample without being captured by the body's strong gravitational pull. On average, gravity on a neutron star is 2 billion times stronger than gravity on Earth. In fact, it's strong enough to significantly bend radiation from the star in a process known as gravitational lensing, allowing astronomers to see some of the backsides of the star.

The power from the supernova that birthed it gives the star an extremely quick rotation, causing it to spin several times in a second. Neutron stars can spin as fast as 43,000 times per minute, gradually slowing over time.

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