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2Physics Quote:
"Many of the molecules found by ROSINA DFMS in the coma of comet 67P are compatible with the idea that comets delivered key molecules for prebiotic chemistry throughout the solar system and in particular to the early Earth increasing drastically the concentration of life-related chemicals by impact on a closed water body. The fact that glycine was most probably formed on dust grains in the presolar stage also makes these molecules somehow universal, which means that what happened in the solar system could probably happen elsewhere in the Universe."
-- Kathrin Altwegg and the ROSINA Team

(Read Full Article: "Glycine, an Amino Acid and Other Prebiotic Molecules in Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko"

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sound Velocity Bound and Neutron Stars

Paulo Bedaque (left) and Andrew W. Steiner (right)

Authors: Paulo Bedaque1, Andrew W. Steiner2,3,4 

1Department of Physics, University of Maryland, College Park, USA 
2Institute for Nuclear Theory, University of Washington, Seattle, USA
3Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, USA 
4Physics Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, USA. 

Neutron stars are the final stage in the evolution of a star, the remnants of supernova explosion marking the end of the star’s life. They are incredibly compact objects: masses comparable to the Sun’s are compressed in a region of about 10 miles radius. At these densities, most matter is composed of neutrons. The repulsion between neutrons balances precariously against the strong gravitational fields generated by this high matter concentration: a little less repulsion or a little more mass leads to the collapse of the star into a black hole [1].

It has been possible to measure the mass of several neutron stars, and until recently, all accurate mass measurements were near 1.4 times the mass of our sun. However, within the past few years, two neutron stars have been discovered to have a mass around twice that of our sun [2]. What this discovery means is that the neutron matter composing the star is stiffer than previously expected.

The speed of sound in air is about 346 meters per second, and it tends to increase with either the density or the temperature of the medium in which it travels. Since neutron stars contain the most dense matter in the universe one might wonder how fast the speed of sound is inside neutron stars.

Everywhere else in the universe [3], the speed of sound seems to be limited to the speed of light divided by the square root of 3, that is, v < 0.577 c (see, for example, the figures here: Link to plots >> ). At high enough densities or temperatures, the speed of sound approaches this limiting value. This result comes from quantum chromodynamics (QCD) [4] - the physical theory which describes how neutrons and protons (made of quarks) interact. At high enough densities and temperatures, QCD exhibits "asymptotic freedom", meaning that the interaction becomes weaker [5]. Unfortunately, neutron star densities are not large enough so that quarks are weakly interacting.

In a paper published in Physical Review Letters (as an 'Editor's suggestion') on January 21st [6], we showed that the speed of sound in neutron stars must exceed this value at some point inside a neutron star. The reason is that models where the speed of sound is smaller than the limiting value at all densities (those like the black lines in the figure) are too soft to produce neutron stars with masses twice the mass of the sun. Thus, the only alternative is that the speed of sound must look something like either the blue dotted or red dashed lines.

This result is important because it tells us more about how neutrons and protons interact, not only in neutron stars, but also here on earth [7]. It gives us more insight into how QCD behaves at high densities. Finally, it also helps us understand some of the more extreme neutron star-related processes like core-collapse supernovae, magnetar flares, and neutron star mergers.

Notes & References:
[1] See a diagram of stellar evolution from the Chandra X-ray observatory, their neutron star page, or the wikpedia entry on neutron stars.
[2] P.B. Demorest, T. Pennucci, S.M. Ransom, M.S.E. Roberts, J.W.T. Hessels, "A two-solar-mass neutron star measured using Shapiro delay". Nature, 467, 1081–1083 (2010). Abstract; John Antoniadis, Paulo C. C. Freire, Norbert Wex, Thomas M. Tauris, Ryan S. Lynch, Marten H. van Kerkwijk, Michael Kramer, Cees Bassa, Vik S. Dhillon, Thomas Driebe, Jason W. T. Hessels, Victoria M. Kaspi, Vladislav I. Kondratiev, Norbert Langer, Thomas R. Marsh, Maura A. McLaughlin, Timothy T. Pennucci, Scott M. Ransom, Ingrid H. Stairs, Joeri van Leeuwen, Joris P. W. Verbiest, David G. Whelan, "A Massive Pulsar in a Compact Relativistic Binary". Science, 340, 6131 (2013). Abstract.
[3] The only possible exception is matter inside the event horizon of a black hole, which is not causally connected with the rest of the universe anyway.
[4] See the Wikipedia article on Quantum Chromodynamics.
[5] This finding led to 2004 Nobel prize in physics for David J. Gross, H. David Politzer and Frank Wilczek.
[6] Paulo Bedaque, Andrew W. Steiner, "Sound Velocity Bound and Neutron Stars". Physical Review Letters, 114, 031103 (2015). Abstract. Also available at: arXiv:1408.5116 [nucl-th].
[7] Neutrons and protons are the basic building blocks of all atomic nuclei.

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