Gravitational waves could be the key to detecting a new phase transition to quark matter when two neutron stars merge. In simulations of these explosive events, performed independently by two international research groups, distinct signatures of the phase transition were uncovered in the resulting gravitational wave spectra. Both research teams published their findings last week in Physical Review Letters.
The merging of two neutron stars was observed for the first time in 2017, an event labelled GW170817 by astronomers. During such a merger the temperatures and pressures far exceed those that can be achieved in any laboratory, and scientists have wondered whether it’s possible for these extreme conditions to facilitate a new type of phase transition – one to quark matter.
Quarks have so far only been found in a group, forming all known subatomic particles such as protons and neutrons. But scientists have speculated that these subatomic particles could break down at ultrahigh pressures and temperatures to create a uniform sea of quarks.
Researchers believe that evidence for this phase transition might be found in the spectra of the gravitational waves, such as those detected in the GW170817 event. Identifying a specific signature of such a phase transition in ...