- A neutron star is about 20 km in diameter and has the mass of about 1.4 times that of our Sun.
- One teaspoonful would weigh a billion tons (or more)
- Some neutron stars have jets of materials streaming out of them at nearly the speed of light. As these beams pan past Earth, they flash like the bulb of a lighthouse. This pulsing appearance led them to be called pulsars.
A neutron star is about 20 km in diameter and has the mass of about 1.4 times that of our Sun. This means that a neutron star is so dense that on Earth, one teaspoonful would weigh a billion tons! Because of its small size and high density, a neutron star possesses a surface gravitational field about 2 x 1011 times that of Earth. Neutron stars can also have magnetic fields a million times stronger than the strongest magnetic fields produced on Earth.
Neutron stars are one of the possible ends for a star. They result from massive stars which have mass greater than 4 to 8 times that of our Sun. After these stars have finished burning their nuclear fuel, they undergo a supernova explosion. This explosion blows off the outer layers of a star into a beautiful supernova remnant. The central region of the star collapses under gravity. It collapses so much that protons and electrons combine to form neutrons. Hence the name "neutron star".
Pulsar (short for pulsating radio star) is a highly magnetized, rotating neutron star that emits a beam of electromagnetic radiation. This radiation can only be observed when the beam of emission is pointing toward the Earth, much the way a lighthouse can only be seen when the light is pointed in the direction of an observer, and is responsible for the pulsed appearance of emission. Neutron stars are very dense, and have short, regular rotational periods. This produces a very precise interval between pulses that range from roughly milliseconds to seconds for an individual pulsar.
The precise periods of pulsars make them useful tools. Observations of a pulsar in a binary neutron star system were used to indirectly confirm the existence of gravitational radiation. The first extra solar planets were discovered around a pulsar, PSR B1257+12. Certain types of pulsars rival atomic clocks in their accuracy in keeping time.