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“Nuclear Pasta” Might be The Strongest Material in The Universe

As insufferable as the whole Flying Spaghetti Monster thing is—born of the same culture that decided being “random” was a replacement for being witty. Good jokes aren’t just haphazard insertions of words you laughed at once, like “pirates,” they’re intentional. Yes, this is the hill I’ve chosen to die on, and no, I’m not happy with myself—it’s morally imperative to give credit where credit is due. When the newly discovered “strongest material in the universe” is best described in terms of pasta, all you can do is give them a tip of the fedora and a solid “fair enough.”

As to the pasta in question, this isn’t your grandmother’s tagliatelle, dressed with a nice bolognese. This is cosmic pasta. Or, at least, this is the predicted innards of neutron stars—the strange, dead remnants of supernovas not quite heavy enough to go full black hole—which form a variety of structures shaped like Sunday dinner, including spaghetti, gnocchi, and lasagna. These are the actual names used by scientists to describe the various structures.

Italian chef

The true face of god.

In a paper published in the respected, peer reviewed journal Physical Review Letters, titled “Elasticity of Nuclear Pasta,” authors M. E. Caplan, A. S. Schneider, and C. J. Horowitz show that the strength of nuclear pasta is about 10 billion times that of steel. Such incredible strength isn’t that surprising considering that this stuff is predicted to be 100 trillion times more dense than water.

Nuclear pasta is predicted to make up the inner crust of neutron stars. After a star goes supernova or white dwarf, it has no more fuel to burn and begins to collapse under it’s own gravity. If it’s big enough, it keeps collapsing until reality itself breaks and it forms a singularity, AKA a black hole. If it isn’t quite that heavy it forms a neutron star. A neutron star is a big ball of compressed nuclear matter—protons and neutrons—that is unlike any matter we would recognize on earth. The matter we see on earth is made of molecules, atoms consisting of protons, neutrons, and electrons stuck together via chemical bonds to make everything from methane to corrugated cardboard. The nuclear pasta is different. There are no electrons, so there are no chemical bonds and consequently there are no molecules. It’s just impossibly dense matter, in the most generic form possible.

Neutron star, illustrated

Illustration of a neutron star.

Nuclear pasta hasn’t been directly observed yet. It’s not like we can just go find neutron stars and start poking them. The best we can do is study them  through the gravitational waves they produce. Neutron stars spin very fast and give off “gravitational waves,” distortions of space-time. Through these distortions of space-time scientists would be able to can tell how lumpy a neutron star is, and by proxy, figure out if it’s made of spaghetti or not.

This is the real cosmic joke. It’s absurd, not “random.” It’s taking a bad joke and then elevating it to some strange nightmare that distorts space and time as it spins, uncaring, in the cold of the void. It was always going to go down like this, wasn’t it? The last vestiges of sense hanging frayed like so much linguine.