Tag Archives: atoms

What It Looks Like When Two Neutron Stars Rip Each Other Apart to Form a Black Hole (Video)

A neutron star is what’s left behind when a massive star (typically 8-30 times the size of our Sun) explodes into a supernova. These supergiant stars get so large that they are no longer able to remain stable under their own intense gravity, collapsing in on themselves.

The gravity is so massive that it exceeds the strength of the atomic forces within particles, causing them to eject protons and electrons. The ball of neutrons they leave behind is so dense that a teaspoonful of the material would weigh as much as Mount Everest!

A neutron star (the tiny white dot in the middle) surrounded by the remnants of the supernova explosion that created it. Click to enlarge (Photo: NASA/Andrew Fruchter)

Neutrons stars have a “mass threshold”- if they take on too much mass, even the neutrons themselves will collapse. When two of these extremely dense neutron stars collide, the extra mass they add to one another causes their massive gravitational forces to tear each other apart.

They go into a blindingly-fast death spin, ejecting massive amount of material while merging into a doughnut like structure with a black hole at its center. The entire process takes just 20 milliseconds (that is 1/50th of a second, if you’re wondering).

Check out a simulation of the amazing phenomenon courtesy of NASA:

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This Gem Recently Found on A Sheep Ranch Is the Oldest Known Piece of Earth

This gem, a zircon crystal, was recently found on a sheep ranch in Western Australia.

Using two different aging techniques, researchers from the University of Wisconsin determined that the gem is 4.4 billion years old, making it the oldest known piece of Earth ever discovered.

Age of the gem on a timeline of Earth's history (University of Wisconsin)
Age of the gem on a timeline of Earth’s history. Click to enlarge. (University of Wisconsin)

The researchers, led by geoscience professor John Valley, first employed a widely-used method known as radiometric dating. Since we know how long it takes radioactive elements like uranium to decay, we can determine the age of a sample by seeing how much the uranium within it has decayed.

However, some scientists worried that because of the extreme age of the gem, this method might not be totally accurate. So Valley and his team used a technique called atom-probe tomography which determines the mass of individual atoms of lead in the crystal. This method confirmed the age of 4.4 billion years.

Read the full story from the Sydney Morning Herald here.

Feature image courtesy of the University of Wisconsin.

What’s Harder than Diamond, More Flexible than Rubber and More Conductive than Copper?

In 2010, the Nobel Prize for Physics went to Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov of Manchester University for their pioneering work with the material graphene.

So what is this “miracle material” exactly? Well, it’s a material made of a single sheet of carbon atoms (one atom thick) arranged in a hexagonal honeycomb-like structure like the one below.

graphene3

It’s extracted from graphite and is about 100x stronger than steel. It conducts electricity better than copper, is more flexible than rubber, and on top of all that, it’s so light that a roll of it can perch atop a delicate flower.

graphene2

Because of its extreme versatility, inventive minds are already salivating at all of the possible applications of the material including:

  • Flexible, electronic screens
  • Enhancing solar cells
  • Extending battery life
  • Sensors for measuring strain, gas, magnetism or pressure (graphene is extremely sensitive to environmental conditions)
  • Building new body tissue for regenerative medicine
  • A graphene “paint” could be used to coat materials and make them stronger, more conductive, impermeable and rust-proof

There is still plenty of work to be done, however. The material’s proponents acknowledge that the most amazing characteristics of the material are only achieved with the highest grade graphene- a level of quality which, as of yet, hasn’t been able to be reproduced on an industrial-scale.

But this isn’t stopping countries and corporations for leaping headfirst into the material. The British government has invested almost $100 million in developing the technology already.

graphene4

And since the research began in 2004, over 7000 patents using the material have been filed, the most being in China, which has over 2000 (Samsung owns more than 400 of those).

So, while the material may be too expensive for major every day use now, its future is looking very bright.

Read more from the BBC here.