Strange Matter
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Basic Information

Strange Matter is the most dangerous substance in the universe. It is a hypothetical form of degenerate matter likely to be found in a type of neutron star known as a quark star. Strange matter is made up of strange quarks, a rare and generally fleeting form of quark subatomic particle. In the hyper-condensed heart of a neutron star, the strange quarks might not vanish instantly like they do when occurring on their own in normal conditions. Instead of being a collection of individual atoms, the matter under this pressure will have converted into one giant mass of strange quarks, and become a super-stable ultradense new state of matter. A chunk of strange matter the size of Manhattan would have the mass of the sun. Heavy.

The quarks will become so efficiently packed that the strange matter is 100% indestructible. It would be the most stable matter in the universe. Even nuking it will, at best, break it into smaller globules of strange matter, and not consume the strange matter. But let us say two such quark stars happen to be close enough to be caught in each other's gravity. They would spiral in, and crash with such tremendous force that it might break off small bits of strange matter (these tiny globules are called a strangelet) and send them hurtling out into space. The same thing could happen if a black hole and a quark star collided. Either would be disastrous.

The strange matter is so dense that any sizeable chunk would likely obliterate whatever it impacted… and a strangelet could theoretically be measured in miles or kilometres.

That's just the start of the problem, however. It is theorized that the super-efficient stacking of the quarks making up this matter would be effectively contagious. If it touched an amount of normal matter, that normal matter would be broken down into the same sort of quarky goo as the strange matter.

Far worse than any run-of the mill bolide or meteor impact, if even a small amount struck your planet, there would be horrendous impact, followed by a gradual conversion or possibly even a sudden implosion that would leave your planet collapsed down into a tiny fraction of its previous size. Even if the strangelet was small and the initial impact didn't instantly devastate the planet, it would eventually convert all minerals, life and matter on the planet into this new super-dense amorphous format. The transformative reaction would grow faster as more and more of the planet got converted. It's unlikely anything on the planet could possibly survive this extinction-level event, though if the initial impact was with a small amount, you might be able to fleet in a spacecraft before anything near you converted and it became too late to escape. Eventually, all that would be left behind would be a strange planet.

Even a near miss could also be a disaster. If just a tiny droplet-sized strangelet struck your star (which, I note, is a much larger target than most planets), it would start a chain reaction that transformed your sun into a strange star. It would stay about the same mass, but shrink down much smaller, and the new form would emit far less light than the previous star. Any inhabited worlds in the system would experience massive climate change, probably worse than nuclear winter.

Scared yet? What if I told you this stuff might be all over our galaxy, and some could be hurtling toward us right now? Strange matter is a possible candidate for all that unobservable dark matter mass that math and our models of the universe say should be out there. Some of it may have been formed at the time of the big bang.


Game and Story Use

  • It's the End of the World as we know it if even just a tiny droplet hits our planet. Detecting the approaching strange prior to impact may be very difficult.
    • It would be one heck of a (depressing) way to end a campaign. Mega-million TPK. Rocks fall, everybody gets strange.
    • If you're not afraid to make up your own details (or hand wave them), you might set a really bleak "The Road"-style After The End/End Of Days campaign where the other side of the planet got hit by strange matter, and people locally are struggling to survive a little while longer while the changes to matter and gravity lead to a steady stream of earthquake and related disasters.
  • You can't nuke it into oblivion, you can't hope to break it up, and diverting it will take tremendous force since it's so dense. Even if you dodge it, you'd might need figure out a way to isolate it before it contaminates the rest of the universe. Being so indestructible and contagious, your options are limited.
    • Maybe some sort of forcefield would work, or you might try to put a black hole in its path.
    • Presumably whatever tech the enemy used to store and deliver it would also serve to contain or deflect it … if you can get it working in time or steal it…
  • Would make a truly horrific planet-killing WMD for a truly epic space opera.
    • Transporting the munition to the target would be tricky and likely suicidal, but might be possible via some sort of railgun or (on a larger scale) via stellar engine.
  • Also works as an interstellar terrain / navigation hazard in space / negative space wedgie to throw at your PCs as they pass through the immense void between solar systems. Warning klaxons fire off, and initially looks like your spaceship may have been hit by a micrometeorite. When the PCs don their spacesuit and go to patch the the whole, they discover something stranger going on. The intense gravity around the spray of strangelets is distorting time and space near the impact, and parts of the ship implode before your eyes. Forget patching a hole, the question now is how do you jettison the affected regions of the ship? The solution may involve the PCs literally disassembling part of their own vessel so that what remains can limp home to the nearest shipyard for repairs.
    • Losing your ship with nothing to gain from the experience is not inherently a lot of fun on it's own, so you might need to complicate things to liven up the story.
      • Perhaps the strange matter is self-aware, and can be convinced to leave the ship before it converts all of you. It may not realize that making you strange will destroy your fragile human body and consciousness. Any creature made of strange matter is likely to be indestructible and immortal, so trying to explain that it's killing you and you don't like that may be tricky.
  • In the event that science is able to figure out a way to use strange matter, either as a WMD or in some non-suicidal way, a Strange Star is a giant repository of the stuff ready to be mined. That is, assuming you have some pretty amazing mining equipment that can survive an operate in neutron-star levels of gravity, and the necessary protective measures to keep from converting the whole system and your merchant fleet into little hyper-compressed quark nuggets. Seems like a lot of hoops to jump your spaceship through.
    • Harvesting a free-floating strangelet that was cast off by natural forces from a colliding strange star is perhaps more likely, since it at least eliminates the "operating a mining operation in close proximity to the crushing gravity and deadly heat of a neutron star" angle. You might try some sort of forcefield to steer the strangelet into a small uninhabited planetoid, which then converts into all the strange matter you could want via a process not unlike the starter-dough of a friendship bread. Still stupidly dangerous, but at least a lot easier than trying to mine a quark star.
  • I question the sanity (and long-term survival odds) of any civilization that attempts to use contagious strange matter as their applied phlebotinum of choice.
    • That said, it's probably a decent match for the evil galactic empire or soul-less corporation. (Come to think of it, this is totally the sort of thing I could see the Mao from The Expanse, Weyland-Yutani from Aliens, or any of several megacorps from Cyberpunk 2020 try to capitalize on.)
    • This has to be a candidate for "weapon that turns everyone else against you" - could be a good backstory for the eradication of a precursor species. And possibly something that, as soon as a civilisation starts showing signs of messing about with strange matter, the ambassadors of one or more elder species drop by to explain what happened to the last people who tried that.
    • And, there's definitely something fun about using "strange" in ways that blur the verb/adjective/noun boundaries. Strange grenade. Strange missile. Strange laser. Strange engine. Strange life. Strange new worlds. Doctor Strange. Etc.
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