Good Fact #4: Neutron Stars

Written by on June 27, 2010 in Good Fact Series with 0 Comments

A Neutron Star is one of a very few celestial objects whose scale is not mind-numbingly enormous. In fact in many cases a typical Neutron Star is only 10 to 20 kilometers in diameter, roughly the size of a small city. And although you might think it is a harmless little baby star, think again because this tiny baby can rip your arms off.

To get a sense of the size, you can imagine if one was docked just outside a nearby city, essentially it would take up a great chunk of the horizon. (See below) The illustration shows the Burrard Inlet just outside Vancouver, British Columbia – let’s just say it wouldn’t go unnoticed.

And although this illustration depicts the neutron star passively floating above the city like some innocent hot air balloon, the affect between these two bodies would be far more dramatic. Suffice it to say, the catastrophe that would befall you wouldn’t even leave you the opportunity to yell, “Oh, the humanity!”

What I am talking about is the difference between mass and size. They are not the same thing.

Mass is a measure of how much matter is packed into something. Size is just a measure of something’s volume.

For example, a bowling ball and a soccer ball have roughly the same size, but could you imagine kicking a bowling ball like you would a soccer ball? Ouch, that would leave all your little piggies going wee-wee all the way home on that one… a cruel lesson on Mass.

Incidentally, weight is the measure of mass in relation to the effect of gravity.

If your mass is 90 kilograms on earth, you would still have a mass 90 kg on the moon, but you would weigh a 1/6th as much because of the moons lesser gravity. All of this is given by a little formula called Newtons Law of Gravitation.

Gravity – if you remember high school science class – is an attractive force that is proportional to the mass of the object.

In the case of a neutron star, it has the mass of a few suns but compacted within the fraction of the size. That means that even though it is small, its still has an enormous gravitational pull.

For instance, lift a hamburger to your mouth on earth and the weight is easily manageable, however, lift the same hamburger on the surface of a Neutron Star and you will be in for some trouble as it would weigh 2,000,000,000,000 times more – making your half pound burger weigh more like 453,600,000 metric tonnes! – talk about indigestion, and that’s without the garnishes or bun. Home the whopper, pshaw!

So, what would happen to Earth if one of these little monsters passed by our front door?

As it approached, it would begin to draw the nearer side of our planet towards its surface faster the far side, effectively shearing and tearing earth apart. Slowly the atmosphere would be displaced into space while unimaginable earthquakes and melting rock would tremble and churn beneath our feet. The lessened gravity would draw us up into a burning sky, charring our bodies in a torrent of sweltering black clouds and scorching heat. Our dust would be tossed into orbit around the neutron star, then stripped of its electrons just before being atomically fused to the star’s surface, where it would stay for the next billions of years.

Earth ripped apart by a Neutron Star

 

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