Do not fear the nuclear pasta that lives in a neutron star
Scientists are notoriously terrible name-givers. Some of the greatest discoveries in history have been made laughable by their lackluster names, which either undersell the importance of the phenomenon or miss a chance to evoke its true magnificence.
Neutron stars, themselves an example of this tragically dry nomenclature, have nevertheless turned up a host of opportunities for better naming ever since they entered the realm of serious study in 1967. These extremely dense stars produce unparalleled levels of pressure in their interiors, making what goes on inside a neutron star an ongoing scientific mystery that’s nearly impossible to observe directly.
Physicists at Indiana University in Bloomington have found another way to probe these bizarre celestial bodies: by recreating their conditions via computer simulation. That’s what led them to the discovery of a bizarre substance they’re calling nuclear pasta, which is so beautifully named that it restores all hope in the linguistic creativity of modern scientists. Below the surface of the star, material is so deformed by magnetism and high pressure that it becomes a continuous flow of matter no longer classifiable as any particular element. The dense mixture of protons and neutrons instead forms, according to this research, a series of shapes that are strangely reminiscent of gnocchi, spaghetti, and lasagna. In addition to its starchy structures, nuclear pasta appears to be outrageously strong stuff - possibly the strongest material in the universe.