Something Positive In A Neutron Star
    By Enrico Uva | January 26th 2011 08:21 AM | 3 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Enrico

    I majored in chemistry, worked briefly in the food industry and at Fisheries and Oceans. I then obtained a degree in education. Since then I have...

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    One night last October, I arrived twenty minutes early to a Science College lecture at Concordia’s Oscar Peterson Hall. I noticed that the Hall connected to their library and walked in.

    It was years since I had stepped into the reference section of a university library. The feeling was akin to what you would experience if you had finally bathed in a tropical lagoon after years of living in the desert. There was a 65-volume reference set on heterocyclic chemistry, a CRC handbook that focused only photobiology and photochemistry, a gorgeous astronomical atlas, a brand new textbook on Chinese herbal medicines.

    The thought occurred to me that when I retire I will devote a day of every week to devouring such shelves. And if only I could trade all the time I have spent watching and following dishonest athletes for future time in a great library. When I stepped back into the lobby of the concert hall and into the auditorium, I was treated to the fine wit and enthusiasm of neutron star investigator, Victoria Kaspi. In 1993 when she completed her PhD, Joseph Taylor, her thesis advisor was awarded a Nobel Prize for discovering binary pulsars. Einstein’s theory of general relativity predicted that two neutron stars would emit gravitational waves as they orbit a common center of mass.

    The waves would carry away orbital energy and cause the two stars to draw closer together. Taylor found that the orbital period of the pulsar system was indeed declining: the two bodies were rotating faster and faster about each other in an increasingly tight orbit. When the prize was announced she said it was the greatest feeling she had ever experienced. (And yes, she does have a life that comes with a husband and children.) Her energy level did not wane during the question period.

    I found out that neutron stars have a proton-electron crust that is probably responsible for pulsars’ intense magnetic field, which cannot be generated by neutrons. After the question period, she came to a wine and cheese reception. She literally walked two feet past the entrance only to be swarmed by more inquisitive guests. Almost 45 minutes later, when I finally left, she still had not moved from the spot. She had not had a chance to taste the fine wine or savour any of the vegetables or cheese. Instead she was still conversing with the same intensity she had displayed when she first walked on stage two and a half hours earlier.

    The public had come across a true star.


    A star indeed.  But the star will burn out, unless she is allowed to take better care of herself.
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    Good point. There is an inverse exponential relationship between star life and size.
    I forgot to point out a funny coincidence. I had not only told some of my students about Kaspi's lecture but I had also invited a friend of mine who is a retired chemistry teacher. When he heard who was giving the lecture, he told me Kaspi was a former student of his at Wagar High school in Montreal. Sure enough when she met him that night, she remembered Mr. Murison.