One of my research areas are neutron stars. To understand them requires to understand how the strong interactions behave when the matter is enormously densely packed. A new PhD student of mine has now started to work on this topic, and I would like to describe a little bit what we will be looking at.
I have already written in the past that this type of situation is very hard to deal with, because we cannot just do simulations. This is unfortunate, since simulations have been very successful in uncovering what happened in the early universe. In that case, the system is hot rather than dense. Though the reason for the problem is 'just' technical, chances are not too bright to resolve it in the near future.
Hence, I had already quite some time ago decided that a possibility is to play indirectly. The basic idea is that there are other methods, which would work. The price we have to pay is that we need to make approximations in these methods. But we would like to check these approximations, ideally against simulations. But we cannot, because there are no. So how to break the circle?
To escape this problem, we can again use a detour. We did this once, because we hoped that we will learn more about the qualitative features. That we can get some insight into this type of physics. Now, we have a much more quantitative approach. We use theories, which are very similar to the strong interactions (also called QCD), but are not QCD, but which can be simulated. And these we will use to break the circle.
Why is it possible to perform simulations for this type of theories? Well, the main reason is the difference between particles and anti-particles. In QCD, a quark and an anti-quark are fundamentally very different objects. Hence, a large density can mean two things. A large density could be having many more quarks than anti-quarks, but still have plenty of both. Or it could be just to have many of one type. For a neutron-star both situations are relevant. And thus, there may be actually many more particles present then we would think, just many of them anti-particles. This is at the heart of the problem, that there is so much more than just the superficial number of particles.
This problem is evaded by using a theory instead where there are no anti-quarks. To be more precise, a theory in which anti-quarks are the same as quarks. There exists a number of such theories. However, such a change is very drastic. It thus may happen that the so changed theory is so radically different from QCD that any comparison becomes meaningless. Thus, it is necessary to ensure that the theory is close enough to the original.
Two candidates for such theories have been identified so far. One is the so-called G2QCD, of which I talked about previously. Another one is very close to QCD, but instead of three color charges is has just two different ones. Both cases have their own merits. The first is closer to QCD. In this theory there are protons and neutrons. The latter does not have these, but it is very cheap to simulate. Both theories are hence quite different, but actually share both also many other traits with QCD.
It therefore stands to reason that whatever approximation describes both well will also work for QCD. Thus, we will now use the simulations of both theories to test the approximations made in the other methods. Especially, we will look at the properties of the quarks and gluons. We will then use the insights gained to improve the approximations. Until we describe both theories well enough. Then we will translate the approximations back to QCD. And if everything works out, we will have then an acceptable description of a piece of neutron star matter.