The most massive neutron star ever discovered has more than two times the mass of the Sun, but manages to pack it all into a sphere measuring around only 15 miles across. The discovery was recently detailed by West Virginia University, where researchers helped discover the new record neutron star. With its insanely high mass and compact nature, a study recently published on the discovery reveals that the star is on the brink of becoming a black hole.
When a star that is at least eight solar masses explodes, it results in a neutron star, the maximum mass of which is 3 solar masses. If the neutron star exceeds that mass, it will end up collapsing into a quark star, eventually becoming a new black hole. The newly detailed neutron star, which has been named J0740+6620, has a mass of 2.17 times the Sun.
To help put that into perspective, the researchers point out that the Sun has a mass that is 333,000 times greater than that of Earth. Despite the massive size, however, this neutron star is estimated to measure only around 15 miles across; it is located 4,600 light-years from our own planet.
The neutron star’s mass is so vast that a piece of it the size of a sugar cube would weigh 100 million tons on Earth, the researchers say. The star’s presence was discovered by the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia where astronomers were conducting a ‘routine observation’ in the search for gravitational waves.
One of the study’s authors Maura McLaughlin explained:
At Green Bank, we’re trying to detect gravitational waves from pulsars. In order to do that, we need to observe lots of millisecond pulsars, which are rapidly rotating neutron stars. This (the discovery) is not a gravitational wave detection paper but one of many important results which have arisen from our observations.