Recently Discovered Neutron Star Is Almost Too Massive to Exist
by Jason Daley Smithsonian.com
Astronomers at the Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia have located the most massive neutron star on record, so dense that it may be close to the cusp of collapsing into a black hole.
Neutron stars are one of the evolutionary end points for high-mass stars. After they’ve spent most of their nuclear fuel near the end of their lives, the stars explode in bright supernovas, leaving behind an ultra-dense core of material. If that core is of a certain mass, it becomes a neutron star under the pressure of gravity. If it’s beyond a certain mass, it will collapse into a black hole. But researchers aren’t exactly sure of the dividing line between the two—yet.
Astronomers are interested in neutron stars for various reasons. Most of these dense stars are less than 15 miles in diameter, but a single sugar cube worth of the star would weigh 100 million tons here on Earth. Certain neutron stars called pulsars emit beams of radio waves from their magnetic poles and rotate at a steady rate, which is why astronomers call them “cosmic lighthouses.”
In fact, the regularity of pulsars makes them useful in the hunt for elusive low-frequency gravitational waves.