Thursday, October 21, 2010

Neutron Stars Are Doomed if Vacuum Energy goes out of control

Artist's illustration of an "isolated neutron star"--a neutron star that does not have an associated supernova remnant, binary companion or radio pulsations. Credit: Casey Reed/Penn State University.

A mind-bogglingly huge buildup of "vacuum energy," which would occur in just milliseconds, could lead the stellar remnants known as neutron stars to instantly collapse or explode, scientists now suggest.

What is often thought of as the empty vacuum of space is actually filled with ghostly energy and virtual particles wavering in and out of existence, a bizarre prediction of quantum theory that numerous experiments have proven true.

This "vacuum energy," as scientists call it, is usually thought of as extremely weak at best. But theoretical physicists in Brazil suggest that the immensely powerful gravitational fields of neutron stars could "awaken the vacuum," causing its energy to build up exponentially very quickly.

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