But Zwicky was also capable of insights of the most startling brilliance. In the early 1930s, he turned his attention to a question that had long troubled astronomers: the appearance in the sky of occasional unexplained points of light, new stars.
Improbably he wondered if the neutron—the subatomic particle that had just been discovered in England by James Chadwick, and was thus both novel and rather fashionable—might be at the heart of things. It occurred to him that if a star collapsed to the sort of densities found in the core of atoms, the result would be an unimaginably compacted core.
Atoms would literally be crushed together, their electrons forced into the nucleus, forming neutrons. You would have a neutron star. Imagine a million really weighty cannonballs squeezed down to the size of a marble and—well, you're still not even close.
The core of a neutron star is so dense that a single spoonful of matter from it would weigh 200 billion pounds. A spoonful! But there was more. Zwicky realized that after the collapse of such a star there would be a huge amount of energy left over—enough to make the biggest bang in the universe. He called these resultant explosions supernovae. They would be—they are—the biggest events in creation.