Forget steel, forget diamond and even forget everyone’s favorite wonder material graphene – “nuclear pasta” may be the strongest material in the universe. This strange substance is formed in the intense pressures inside neutron stars, and researchers have now run computer simulations to test just how strong it is.
When stars of a certain size die, they explode as supernovae, throwing off their outer layers and leaving behind a dense core that collapses inwards. This core can then form a neutron star, cramming the mass of a Sun or two into an object about 10 km (6.2 mi) wide. That incredible density of material can give rise to some pretty strange phenomena.
Nuclear pasta is one of those curiosities. As the densely-packed neutrons in the star are squeezed and pushed in different directions they take on a range of shapes as you travel deeper into the star, which scientists have long compared to different types of pasta. There are roughly-round bubbles that have been likened to gnocchi, and when the pressure compresses these into long, thin rods, scientists refer to them as spaghetti. And deeper still, those rods are squashed together to form layered sheets, not unlike lasagna.