What's a neutron star? I read about them in Bill Bryson's book, but I couldn't figure out why a neutron start would happen in the first place?
When massive stars collapse, the core of the star gets compressed extremely tightly by the force of its own gravity. As the core collapses, the electrons and protons in the core get closer and closer together. Eventually, the core gets so dense that the electrons and protons are forced together, combining into neutrons. The entire core becomes essentially a solid ball of neutrons, as dense as an atomic nuclei. The outer layers of the star, which are also rushing in towards the core, bounce off of this rock-hard layer of neutrons and whiz off into space, creating a supernova and leaving behind a neutron star at the center. And all of this happens in less than a second. Pretty wild. To summarize: neutron stars are giant balls of neutrons that resulted when a stellar core collapsed and became so dense the protons and electrons combined into neutrons.
Side note: Robert L. Forward wrote a really interesting novel called Dragon’s Egg, which was about intelligent life on a neutron star! It’s quite an interesting read, and you learn a whole lot about neutron stars since the author has a Ph.D in physics. If you want a copy, you can find it here; you won’t find it at a bookstore because it’s out of print, but you can find a used copy online (I linked to one). Let me know if you have any other questions, I’m happy to answer them!