Neutron Stars: The Quest to Understand the Zombies of the Cosmos

Katia Moskvitch. Harvard Univ., $29.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-674919-35-8
Moskvitch (Call Me “Pops”: Le Bon Dieu Dans La Rue), a former Wired editor, delivers an enthralling look at neutron stars, “the small but ultra-dense and incredibly magnetic objects born out of the remnants of massive stars.” Despite the subject’s complexity, Moskvitch skillfully explicates these bizarre celestial objects, memorably dubbing them “cosmic zombies” for the way they send radio waves, gamma rays, and x-rays after the “death” of the stars from which they originate. Breaking up the science, she vividly describes visits to research stations across the world, from the “desolate, Mars-like landscape of the Atacama Desert in Chile” to the “huge radio-quiet zone in Pocahontas County in the mountains of West Virginia.” In addition to explaining how neutron stars are the source of most of the heavy elements like gold and platinum, Moskvitch looks at a related new scientific field, multi-messenger astronomy, which gathers all the signals generated by a cosmic event, such as two neutron stars colliding. Its scientific potential, she writes, is impressive and includes the prospect of using neutron stars as a galaxy-scale navigation system that can “guide humans to other worlds.” Carl Sagan devotees will relish this portrayal of a new frontier in science. (Sept.)

Correction: An earlier version of this review incorrectly stated Moskvich was an editor at Wired.

Reviewed on : 06/11/2020
Release date: 09/15/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
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