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Neutron stars for breakfast? If you could slice open a dense stellar corpse and zoom in, its internal structure might look like a pile of waffles. This theoretical structure of extreme matter may hold clues for designing strong materials on Earth.

Neutron stars are the remnants of supernovae, in which a massive star is crushed into a sphere just kilometres across. Matter rearranges itself into unusual configurations at these extreme pressures.

Charles Horowitz at Indiana University Bloomington and his colleagues simulated a tiny box of neutron star material smaller than a single atom, yet containing tens of thousands of protons and neutrons squeezed super close. The strong nuclear force and the electrostatic force – which don't encounter each other at human scales – fight over the packed protons and neutrons and drive them into strange configurations, collectively dubbed "nuclear pasta".

In the simulations, waffle-like grids formed when the neutron star was crushed to the point at which it contained three protons for every 10 neutrons. At this stage it was a million times hotter than the sun. The waffle structure itself has features just a shade bigger than an atomic nucleus.

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