Thank you for your question.
What you have
probably heard is that the core of a "Neutron Star" is so dense that
even a small amount, like a few teaspoons full, weighs about a billion
tons. This is actually true!
As you probably know, normal
matter (like people, trees and rocks) is made of atoms. Even though
atoms are very small, they have an even smaller thing inside them
called a nucleus. The nucleus inside an atom is so small that if you
made a model of an atom that was the size of a house, the nucleus would
still only be the size of a grain of salt. The interesting thing about
the nucleus is that it is where almost all of the weight of an atom is
In a neutron star, all of the atoms have been
squashed together so tightly by the force of gravity that their nuclei
are touching (think of a bag of marbles). Since each of the tiny nuclei
still weighs almost as much as a whole atom normally would, and since
they are very small (meaning lots of them fit in a small space), a
small scoop of a neutron star is extremely heavy.
star is what is sometimes left over when a very heavy star explodes.
This explosion is called a Supernova, which you may have heard about
also. Below is a nice picture of a neutron star inside the gassy
looking remnants of a supernova called Puppis A. This is from a very
interesting NASA website you can find at:
Red Giant is what our own Sun will become one day a very long time from
now (a few billion years). When this happens it will swell up and get
so large that the orbit of the earth will actually be inside the sun!
Since the sun will still weigh about as much in the future as it does
now, but it will be taking up much more space, it's weight will have to
be very spread out. A spoon-full of material taken from a red giant
(except at it's very center) will not be heavy at all, weighing much
less than a small grain of salt.
If you waited many more
millions of years after our sun has become a red giant you would see a
white dwarf. A white dwarf more or less what was hiding in the center
of the red giant all the time but was covered by it's huge red
"atmosphere". A white dwarf is much more tightly packed than a red
giant, but is not as tightly packed as a neutron star. A teaspoon of
material from a white dwarf would weigh about one ton or so.
(republished on 07/19/06)