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A diamond as big as the Ritz

This article by Phillip F. Schewe of the American Institute of Physics is scheduled for publication in an upcoming issue of Physical Review Letters.

Life expectancy is not the same for all quarks. The "strange" quark, for example, is very unstable compared to the "up" and "down" quarks. However in the exotic high-density environment inside a neutron star, strange quarks are expected to fare better. A new study conducted by Assistant Professor of Physics Krishna Rajagopal and Frank Wilczek, the Herman Feshbach Professor of Physics, shows how much better.

Previously it was thought that the quark-matter collective (what you get by compressing matter to extraordinary densities, as with the RHIC accelerator, but keeping it cool) consisting of "up" quarks (each with an electrical charge of +2/3), "down" quarks (charge -1/3) and a smaller number of "strange" quarks (charge -1/3) would have an overall positive electrical charge. This in turn was expected to attract electrons, making the quark glob metallic and opaque.

The MIT calculations show, however, that the strange quark population is on a par with the ups and downs, meaning the quark-matter part of the neutron star would be electrically neutral; it would in fact be a transparent insulator free of electrons.

"Thus it seems likely," says Professor Wilczek, "that inside each neutron star is 'a diamond as big as the Ritz,' actually much bigger, and a million billion time as dense." The core would not be a solid or crystal in the usual sense, and would not have facets, but it would reflect some light at its boundaries and would otherwise look like a diamond.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 4, 2001.

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