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Quark matter nucleation in neutron stars and astrophysical implications

Authors: Ignazio Bombaci, Domenico Logoteta, Isaac Vidaña, Constança Providência

Ref.: Eur. Phys. J. A 52, 58 (2016)

Abstract: A phase of strong interacting matter with deconfined quarks is expected in the core of massive neutron stars. We investigate the quark deconfinement phase transition in cold (T = 0) and hot β-stable hadronic matter. Assuming a first order phase transition, we calculate and compare the nucleation rate and the nucleation time due to quantum and thermal nucleation mechanisms. We show that above a threshold value of the central pressure a pure hadronic star (HS) (i.e. a compact star with no fraction of deconfined quark matter) is metastable to the conversion to a quark star (QS) (i.e. a hybrid star or a strange star). This process liberates an enormous amount of energy, of the order of 1053 erg, which causes a powerful neutrino burst, likely accompanied by intense gravitational waves emission, and possibly by a second delayed (with respect to the supernova explosion forming the HS) explosion which could be the energy source of a powerful gamma-ray burst (GRB). This stellar conversion process populates the QS branch of compact stars, thus one has in the Universe two coexisting families of compact stars: pure hadronic stars and quark stars. We introduce the concept of critical mass Mcr for cold HSs and proto-hadronic stars (PHSs), and the concept of limiting conversion temperature for PHSs. We show that PHSs with a mass M < Mcr could survive the early stages of their evolution without decaying to QSs. Finally, we discuss the possible evolutionary paths of proto-hadronic stars.