June 5, 2023


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They measured the mass of several nuclides. Thanks to this, they discovered the secrets of the neutron star

Neutron stars, though just the remnants of a massive star, are not completely dead. Objects of this type found in ordinary star binary systems, although smaller than them, are stronger in terms of gravity, which is why they are often able to strip their companions of matter. Excess gases rich in hydrogen and helium stripped from the outer layers of the star gradually roll downward on such a neutron star. This process usually takes several hours or days. However, at some point, enough gas builds up on the surface of the neutron star to ignite a fusion reaction that lasts from 10 to 100 seconds. In the ensuing explosion is a Type I X-ray burst, one of the brightest explosions in space. Space telescopes monitor these types of flares on a regular basis.

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Why do neutron stars flash so brightly in x-rays?

According to the researchers, the glow on the surface of such a specific object is driven by a nuclear reaction in which protons are rapidly captured by nuclides (the so-called rp process). However, to fully understand the reaction pathway and the source of the bursts requires researchers to understand the nuclides that lack neutrons. One of the main exotic nuclides here is germanium-64. For this reason too Scientists from the Institute of Modern Physics (IMP) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences decided to make precise mass measurements of the nuclides in the immediate vicinity of germanium-64. Only in this way will it be possible to better understand not only X-ray flares, but also the properties of neutron stars.

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Better said than done

Scientists suggest that in an explosion of this type very few nuclides are formed, which, in addition, are extremely short-lived. Therefore, measuring their mass is quite challenging. Not surprisingly, it took researchers more than a decade to develop a new, ultra-resolution mass spectrometry technique. Thanks to the developed Bρ-IMS isochronous mass spectrometry technique, it is now easily possible to dream about short-lived nuclides. According to the researchers, it allowed the mass of a single nuclide to be measured within milliseconds after its formation.

neutron star

The first tests of this method are promising. The researchers were able to measure the masses of arsenic-64, arsenic-65, selenium-66, senium-67, and germanium-63 relatively quickly. This data was then fed into the calculations in a model of the X-ray flare forming on the surface of a neutron star. But here the role of theory ends.

The results of the model calculations were then compared with observational data for the X-ray flare of GS 1826-24. As a result, it was determined that the distance between the neutron star and Earth should be corrected by 6.5 percent. up, and the gravitational redshift on the star’s surface should drop by less than 5%. This tells us that the density of this particular neutron star is lower than expected.

As it turns out, the properties and activity of neutron stars can be studied starting with measuring the mass of individual nuclides of exotic elements.