Degenerate Matter is matter that has been so heavily compressed, the atoms just can't get any closer without changing to a higher quantum energy state. It's squished so tight, the electron orbits are collapsing. In some cases, it gets even further, with protons collapsing, and even quarks degenerating.
Examples of degenerate matter include:
- metallic hydrogen
- nuclear matter
- preon matter
- quark matter
- strange matter
- White Dwarf Stars
Degenerate Matter is so dense that even just a single teaspoon of the electron-degenerate stuff a White Dwarf Star is made from would weigh tons. …But that's small potatoes. The neutron-degenerate matter of a neutron star weighs 1,000,000,000 tons per teaspoon.
The uncertainty principle states that the more you know about the position of a particle, the less you know of it's momentum. With degenerate matter, since the position of the subatomic particles is compressed and packed in, we know a lot about their position - and thus their momentum becomes unpredictable. The more compressed the particles become, the more erratically they move - rather than being a solid, degenerate matter is like a cold version of plasma. Putting matter in such a state requires immense pressure and energy. The pressure is so intense, in some cases the atoms stop being atoms, and the nucleus of the former atoms breaks apart into it's constituent protons, which then break apart into their constituent sub-particles (quarks and gluons), which themselves start behaving abnormally.
Degenerate Matter occurs naturally in certain types of collapsed stars. In 1996, a tiny amount of degenerate metallic hydrogen was produced in a lab. It took temperatures of several thousands of kelvins, and pressure roughly equal to a million atmospheres - but despite those conditions, the metallic hydrogen only existed for a microsecond.
Game and Story Use
- When you need something really dense and heavy, this is the stuff.
- Any technology capable of casually making degenerate matter in usable quantities probably has the power to crack planets open. Tread with caution.
- If the degenerate matter is released from the pressure holding it in a degenerate state, it will explode back to normal size. So, that teaspoon of neutron-star innards would suddenly become a pile of matter the size of a large mountain, in the process releasing energy similar to a 50km asteroid hitting the earth. Source.
- Makings of a heck of a bomb there. Weaponized Degenerate Matter would be quite devastating.