We study the consequences of the hadron-quark deconfinement phase transition in stellar compact objects when finite size effects between the deconfined quark phase and the hadronic phase are taken into account. We show that above a threshold value of the central pressure (gravitational mass) a neutron star is metastable to the decay (conversion) to a hybrid neutron star or to a strange star. The mean-life time of the metastable configuration dramatically depends on the value of the stellar central pressure. We explore the consequences of the metastability of “massive ” neutron stars and of the existence of stable compact quark stars (hybrid neutron stars or strange stars) on the concept of limiting mass of compact stars. We discuss the implications of our scenario on the interpretation of the stellar mass and radius extracted from the spectra of several X-ray compact sources. Finally, we show that our scenario implies, as a natural consequence a two step-process which is able to explain the inferred “delayed ” connection between supernova explosions and GRBs, giving also the correct energy to power GRBs. Subject headings: elementary particles – dense matter – stars: neutron – gamma rays: bursts 1
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