Neutron Stars: Why study them? What makes them so fascinating?

Neutron stars are fundamental components of the universe, providing a unique laboratory for studying matter and physics at extreme densities. These celestial objects are detected throughout our galaxy as isolated radio pulsars, X-ray sources, and gravitational wave and gamma-ray emitters during the merger of two neutron stars in a binary system.

The potential existence of neutron stars was first proposed in 1933 by Fritz Zwicky and Walter Baade, but research interest did not occur until several decades later due to their small size and the lack of available technology to observe them. Since then, the study of neutron stars has gradually expanded, including the first detection of gravitational waves in 2017.

Given their extreme density, neutron stars are incredibly small, averaging only 20 kilometers in diameter, with a mass of 1.4 times the Sun. This makes them difficult to replicate in a laboratory setting, and their spin rates can be as high as 716 rotations per second. There are also different types of neutron stars, including pulsars and magnetars.

While neutron stars don’t get as much publicity as other stars, it is currently hypothesized that approximately one billion neutron stars currently exist within the Milky Way Galaxy. One of the most intriguing aspects about neutron stars that Dr. Shapiro has studied throughout his career is the ability of rotation to support neutron stars of higher mass than nonrotating spherical stars.

The study of neutron stars involves a lot of theoretical research, where researchers use computer models to simulate their hypotheses and use powerful instruments like LIGO to confirm these hypotheses down the road. To best study neutron stars, one should acquire a strong and broad background in physics, particularly in computational physics.

In the coming years and decades, the study of neutron stars will continue to teach us about our place in the universe. This is why we science! Keep doing science and keep looking up!

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