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Neutron stars as fundamental physics laboratories
A neutron star is born in the core of a supernova explosion - a violent cosmic furnace that reaches a temperature more than a million times that of the Sun - that signals the end of a heavy star’s life. The object that emerges as the dust settles challenges our understanding of the extremes of physics. Matter has been compressed to densities far beyond our everyday experience, a strong magnetic field has organised itself and the star’s core has started cooling towards an exotic superfluid state.
Astronomers observe neutron stars in many guises. We see pulsars that emit regular radio, X-ray or gamma-ray signals. We observe hotter systems that emit X-rays as they accrete matter from a binary companion. The observations allow us – at least in principle – to probe a regime of physics that can never be reached in terrestrial laboratories. However, these are hands-off laboratories. We can only extract the fundamental physics indirectly, by matching our theories to observed behaviour. Given the variety of observed phenomena and the fact that neutron stars come in many guises, this is a serious challenge.
In this talk I will summarise the current state-of-the-art of this exciting and interdisciplinary research area, and outline how a new revolutionary generation of observatories may lead to a breakthrough in our understanding of the state of matter under extreme conditions.