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Picture of the Day

In neutron stars, protons may do the heavy lifting

A new study suggests that some properties of neutron stars may be influenced not only by their multitude of densely packed neutrons, but also by a substantially smaller fraction of protons -- positively charged particles that make up just 5 percent of a neutron star. Instead of gazing at the stars, the researchers came to their conclusion by analyzing the microscopic nuclei of atoms on Earth. The researchers looked for signs of proton and neutron pairs in atoms of carbon, aluminum, iron and lead, each with a progressively higher ratio of neutrons to protons. They found that, as the relative number of neutrons in an atom increased, so did the probability that a proton would form an energetic pair. The likelihood that a neutron would pair up, however, stayed about the same. This trend suggests that in objects with high densities of neutrons, the minority protons carry a disproportionally large part of the average energy.

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