Researchers are on the lookout for a new type of star, one composed of matter that behaves differently from the kind we're familiar with. If these stars exist, they could solve one of the biggest mysteries astrophysicists have confronted.

A team led by Zoltan Kovacs, a researcher at the University of Hong Kong, recently put forth a theory about "quark stars" (also called "strange stars"), a new class of solar bodies that are thought to occupy an awkward in-between physical state. Quark stars, according to Kovacs, would require a special set of circumstances: they'd be what happens when a collapsing star isn't dense enough to become a black hole, but is too heavy to remain stable as a neutron star (pictured above).


In this scenario, the star's own gravity would squeeze the quarks out of its atoms. The leftover quarks would clump together into bodies of "strange matter," which would then act as rogue matter-converting agents. If one of these quark stars encounters other forms of matter, it could rearrange that matter to resemble itself.

This is all speculative, but if the quark-star hypothesis is borne out, it could account for the huge, unseen cache of dark matter that scientists are pretty sure exists somewhere in the universe. Some or all of that missing mass might be out there in the form of strange-matter deposits, hanging out and catalyzing the transformation of whatever normal matter happens across them.


[Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society via USA Today]