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Within a neutron star—the remains of an exploded, middle-weight star—pressures climb a billion billion times higher than in the sun’s core. For decades, some theoretical physicists have speculated that under those conditions, a bizarre type of matter might emerge: a soup of the subatomic particles called quarks. Now, a new analysis indicates the recipe for that soup, called cold quark matter, needs revision. If correct, it suggests that particle accelerators on Earth might be able to produce stable bits of the quark matter. It also would put the kibosh on hypothetical particles called strangelets, which fearmongers once claimed could destroy the world.

“It’s a speculative argument, but there is nothing obviously wrong with it,” says Robert Pisarski, a nuclear theorist at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York, who was not involved in the work.

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Category: Science