“Nuclear Pasta” may sound like scientific spaghetti, but it is actually the term for a rare new state of matter found in neutron stars. Theorists proposed this new state of matter years ago, but astronomers never had sufficient evidence to suggest that it actually existed. Now, using the complex spin rates of extremely dense neutron stars (called pulsars), astronomers have gathered the first evidence that points to the existence of Nuclear Pasta.
But what exactly is Nuclear Pasta? When atoms are crammed together inside a pulsar, the nuclei get so tightly packed that they arrange themselves in complex patterns which look similar to (you guessed it) pasta. Other than black holes, neutron stars are the densest objects in the universe, so such conditions can only be reached in types of neutron stars such as pulsars.
These dense, pasta-like clumps of atomic nuclei may be the answer behind the mystery of the spin rates of pulsars. The highest observed spin rate of a pulsar is 12 seconds, but in theory, some should have much longer spin rates. A new study suggests that the mysterious force limiting the maximum spin rate of pulsars is Nuclear Pasta, because it affects the magnetic field of a neutron star in such a way that it maintains its angular momentum. The pulsar essentially gets stuck at a maximum spin period, and the role of Nuclear Pasta in this process is the first solid evidence of its existence. The study was published on June 9 in the journal Nature Physics.