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Compact Cosmos

22 NEUTRONSANDNOVAE lighthouses and candles The dazzling supernova deaths of ample four to eight solarmass stars create exotic ironshelled neutron stars. Gravity,no longer balanced by fusion,crushes the remains of the core. Atoms are scrunched so tightly that all the electrons within combine with protons, leaving nothing but neutrons. Though rather compact, a mere ten miles or so across, neutron stars are incredibly dense a thimbleful on Earth would weigh as much as a mountain. Such high densities lead to hugely strong gravitational and magnetic fields. Spinning neutron stars create jets of energized matter that emit intense beams of light and radio waves. When a beam sweeps the Earth,the star pulsates like a celestial lighthouse. The fastest pulsars blink nearly a thousand times a second. Useful for astronomers, Cephid variables are stars whose size and luminosity vary with clockwork regularity. Cephids with the same period are equally as bright, so one appearing dimmer has to be farther away. This means they can be employed as standard candles, enabling the distance to other stars in their vicinity to be estimated. Our sun, being a singleton, is in the minority. Most stars have companions in binary or triple systems,or live in even larger clusters. In a binary pair where a small hot star, often a white dwarf, and a large star orbit, the smaller star can drag streams of matter from its partner. This gas builds up,gets hotter,and periodically detonates as a blazing novaoutburst.
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