Science & Tech

New type of matter may have been found

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Quark stars startle astronomers

In orbit around Earth, a satellite called the Chandra X-ray Observatory surveys the universe for sources of X-rays. Using Chandra, a scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics has observed a star in the constellation Corona Australis that emits X-ray signals that some astronomers think come from an object made not out of atoms, or even the protons and neutrons that make up atoms, but a strange combination of quarks. Called “strange quark matter,” all existing knowledge points to it as the most stable form of matter that can possibly exist. If so, then all other materials must be relatively unstable. “If strange quark matter really exists, it implies that normal matter is not ultimately stable,” says Jeremy Drake of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. “One would think that, given enough time, heavier normal matter, like iron, could eventually revert naturally to the more stable strange quark form. Then if a piece of this matter collides with normal stuff at high enough speed, it could convert it into strange quark matter. Such collisions release a lot of energy, so that in the distant future they might be used as a new form of energy.”