What is a Strangelet?

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Strangelets are theorized cosmological objects composed of an exotic form of matter known as strange matter or quark matter. This form of matter is created in the cores of particularly massively neutron stars. In neutron stars, the remnants of collapsed stars with masses between 4 and 8 times that of our sun, pressure and temperature is so intense that the protons and electrons in atomic nuclei fuse to become neutrons. The resultant matter is sometimes referred to as neutronium, a sea of neutrons packed far more densely than conventional matter.

Strangelets are created in the cores of massively neutron stars.
Strangelets are created in the cores of massively neutron stars.

Sometimes the pressure and gravity in the centres of neutron stars is so massive that the neutronium collapses into its constituent particles, quarks. This results in agglomerations of so-called strange quarks bound to each other directly much in the same manner that the transition from conventional star to neutron star results in seas of neutrons bound directly together. The names physicists have given this type of matter are "quark matter" or "strange matter". This may be regarded as a phase change, like changing from a liquid to a solid, only at densities many orders of magnitude greater than those occurring in this solar system.

It has been hypothesized that strangelets (sub-stellar agglomerations of strange matter) may be able to exist independently from the quark stars which created them. If so, there may be many strangelets in this universe, a possible explanation for the dark matter problem. Since strangelets maintain such deep gravity wells for objects of their size, calculations show that strangelets coming in contact with ordinary matter would overwhelm this matter with their gravitational fields, breaking down the ordinary matter into strange matter. If strangelets exist and keep coming into contact with ordinary matter indefinitely, it may be only a matter of time (albeit a cosmologically long duration of time) before strangelets swallow all the conventional matter in the universe.

Though the existence of strangelets has not yet been proven conclusively, there exist observed stars too dense to be conventional neutron stars yet too sparse to be black holes (i.e., they possess volume). Also, strangelets have been blamed for unexplained seismic events. If a small strangelet penetrated the Earth at relativistic speeds, it would indeed perturb ordinary matter, though to exactly what degree has not yet been established in a consensus among the physics community. Similar to the neutrino before its detection in 1956, the strangelet remains a theoretical construct until we develop instruments fine enough to either verify or disprove their existence.

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Michael is a longtime wiseGEEK contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism. In addition to being an avid blogger, Michael is particularly passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. He has also worked for the Methuselah Foundation, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Lifeboat Foundation.

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Discussion Comments


Let's say a wad of strange matter hit the earth at whatever cosmic speed that it would be likely traveling at. How would it impact a solar body like the earth? What about just one strangelet? I keep thinking of this stuff being squished together in a neutron star, so I keep thinking of this unimaginably dense, hot, mystery particle. I read no two strangelets could occupy the same place at any given time, yet they bond directly together, so could a neutron star collapse into a singularity?

You'd think if this kind of matter could escape the confines of a neutron star, that we'd have observed more strange celestial bodies (like strange systems/universes?)

I love this kind of stuff. My own ignorance is the only thing that holds me back from learning more about things like strange matter!


I also am reading "Impact" by Douglas Preston and wanted to know if this strangelet matter that he refers to in his book really exist or did he make it up. I find out that there is a possibility that it does exist and guess what he did not make it up.


I'm reading "Impact" by Douglas Preston and strange matter or a "strangelet" was used.

The description he gives is similar to the ones describing the Tunguska Event. A column of light reaching to the heavens and a blast wave that flattened a forest and a passing ship saw the same pillar of light going from the pacific ocean to the sky, which would roughly correspond to the entry point in Siberia.

The ongoing theory was that a micro-black hole passed through the earth. But it could also be a strangelet.


Jesus will sort it all out! Yeah!


This article mentions that strangelets can overwhelm "ordinary matter" with the strength of their gravitational fields. Is this meant to imply ordinary "particles" as well? I'm thinking of photons--I'm wondering if light can escape a strangelet's gravitational field. Thanks for reading!


anon 19848, your question as to the likelihood of any relationship between strangelet gravity wells and black holes is a valid one. A few caveats: since, as you said, even light is unable to escape from the gravitational field of a black hole after venturing past the event horizon, we are necessarily devoid of any information as to what exactly lies inside this "point of no return", since information is prevented from escaping in the form of photons; secondly, strangelets, as they are currently understood, do not typically collapse to form black holes, i.e. they retain a measurable volume. So it could be said that the relationship between black holes and strangelets is simply their immense gravity, due to the densities involved. Though you should consider that black holes, since they have no volume, have infinite densities. They could be evolutionary partners, but this remains speculation.


Hi. I don't quite understand most of the things dealing in any field of science, but I was wondering since this strange matter stuff has these gravity wells then do they have any kind of relation with black holes. I mean we really don't know that much about black holes except that they are very dense and have such a gravitational force that light can't escape...that and I guess they are on a bigger scale then strangelets. Sorry I started rambling. I would like it if someone could help me understand this better.


anon17921, I assure you that my comment was the result of nothing more than a cynically minded sense of humour. In fact, I share your preference for a meticulously responsible approach to science, yet I remain mindful of the fact that there is a convincing reason why governments are reluctant to send their best epidemiologists to some obscure moon of Saturn and ask them to continue their "potentially" hazardous work there. The reason: Contrary to popular belief, they're not stupid. The only reason they don't completely dissolve the funding for these scientists is the possibility of their work ultimately paying (less than harmless) dividends. If it sounds cynical, it's because it is. Remember: I'm speaking from the point of view of world governments here. Would you expect anything else?


element92, I really hope you're kidding. I think we need to do these experiments much further from the only provable existence of sentient life. Nuts to the nuke; lets figure out how to get to some intergalactic nowhere before we start tinkering with things that could make us disappear.

I'm not a Luddite, I just believe in a common sense approach to science. For instance- DNA should be manipulated in a completely isolated environment, like a moon. If we weren't busy investing in making germs and blowing each other up, we might already have that capability.


Well, quite obviously, science wouldn't be nearly as interesting if we didn't run the risk of anilhiliating the human race every once and a while (i.e., the nuclear bomb, bioengineering viruses, micro-black holes, etc.).


strange matter is not the necessarily the same thing as quark matter,

quark matter is simply mater composed of quark. strange matter is the name given to quark matter that has so-called strange quarks as part of its make-up. normal matter is composed of up and down quarks, but strange matter has strange quarks in addition to or replacing other types of quarks.


why would you even want to prove or disprove it when it could take over and ruin everything we have?

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