Exotic Possibilities

Objects that physicists are just beginning to imagine

Scientists seek to extend our understanding of the laws of physics by speculating about what new phenomena might be found out in the Universe, and then looking to see if they do in fact exist. Gravitational-wave astronomy is one way we might be able to find these new objects, by find. Among the most interesting possibilities are superstrings and exotic stars.

Superstrings are the fundamental objects of string theory, one possible successor of quantum mechanics and general relativity. If they exist, they might act much like the cosmic strings we encountered on the previous page. By listening for the distinctive whip-like crack of superstrings, we might actually be able to observe effects of string theory — a feat that is currently impossible.

Though superstrings could be hard to observe even if they do exist, another class of hypothetical objects that could be easy to observe are exotic stars: quark stars, boson stars, fermion stars, and other possibilities. For example, a quark star might be something like a neutron star. But if our understanding of physics in the extreme environment of a neutron star isn't quite right, it is possible that all the neutrons might basically merge into one giant soup of quarks, which are usually bound together inside the neutron in sets of three. A quark star would be much denser than a neutron star, and would thus have very different properties. The difference between the gravitational waves given off by a quark star and those given off by a neutron star would be very easy to see in a gravitational-wave detector. These objects would be difficult or impossible to measure in more traditional ways. While they might not even exist, the possibility that they might be discovered by gravitational-wave detectors is motivation to build these exquisite machines.

 The cracking whip of a cosmic string

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Four Areas of Science

Inspiration

Come, you lost Atoms, to your Centre draw,
And be the Eternal Mirror that you saw:
Rays that have wander'd into Darkness wide,
Return and back into your Sun subside.

From Farid al-Din Attar's
twelfth-century masterpiece
The Conference of the Birds

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About SXS

The SXS project is a collaborative research effort involving multiple institutions. Our goal is the simulation of black holes and other extreme spacetimes to gain a better understanding of Relativity, and the physics of exotic objects in the distant cosmos.

The SXS project is supported by Canada Research Chairs, CFI, CIfAR, Compute Canada, Max Planck Society, NASA, NSERC, the NSF, Ontario MEDI, the Sherman Fairchild Foundation, and XSEDE.

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#NobelPrize awarded for detection of gravitational waves! 🌀 SXS co-founder Kip Thorne among the three winners.

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