GRAND RAPIDS, Mich — Matter, defined as anything that has mass and takes up space, is all around us. But the most extreme form of matter is found in the heart of neutron stars in space and it's this matter that NASA scientists are learning more about thanks to an X-ray telescope on the International Space Station.
NASA's Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) has observed neutron stars, specifically the matter, which is dense remnants of massive exploded stars. NICER found that this matter is less squeezable than scientists expected.
Neutron stars are collapsed cores of massive supergiant stars. They are the size of a city and are the smallest and most dense know class of stellar objects. Black holes, on the other hand, are regions of spacetime where gravity is so strong that nothing can escape from it. Black holes are formed by the death of a massive star when gravity collapses in on itself.
NICER measures the sizes and masses of neutron stars on the brink of collapsing into a black hole. Once that collapse happens, the matter can no longer be studied because it's hidden by the black hole's event horizon.
"We study neutron stars because they represent some of the universe's extremes of matter, energy, and gravity, and as a result when we do get to study them, we get to learn some very fundamental things," said Dr. Cole Miller, Professor of Astronomy at the University of Maryland.
Will our sun ever become a neutron star?
"Our sun is going to have a much gentler fate. It will eventually become something known as a white dwarf with about half its current mass and about the size of the earth," answered Miller.
To learn more about NASA's studies on neutron stars and black holes, head to www.nasa.gov/nicer.
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