The Undead and the Building Blocks of Life

Neutron stars are insanely wild things, a little like a failed black hole, where all the matter gets squished up super tight, but can’t fit down the drain – and that does very bizarre things to that matter. And these stars spin like nobody’s business – around 1,000 times per second, and all with intense gravitational and magnetic fields that shred any matter into their component parts.

Neutron stars are dead stars, of a sort, but they die so spectacularly that they are left in a state where they can carry on indefinitely by sucking from other things. If you’re interested, I have a short little piece called Life From the Undead about Betelgeuse, a red giant star very near to us that could well explode in our lifetime into a supernova, with its core collapsing into a neutron star, that would light up our skies for days.

But the point of this piece is to let you know of a new discovery of an actual atmosphere discovered around a neutron star. An atmosphere of carbon, of all things. There is very little hydrogen and helium as you might expect, and it is suspected that the intense temperature of the newly-formed baby neutron star was hot enough to cause nuclear fusion even around its surface, which produced this carbon.

It’s a stunning insight into the life cycle of supernovas and neutron stars. And as such, a stunning insight into the processes that happen, all the time, all around us – the same processes that coalesced to form the material of our bodies, and all the solid things we perceive around us.

The International Space Fellowship has a great little article on this discovery.