Astronomers discovered the most powerful magnetic field in Universe, in a dead star containing the equivalent mass of our Sun into an area just 12 miles across. The magnetar is 20 trillion times stronger than a fridge magnet.
Above: Magnetic loop on magnetar SGR 0418. Artist impression of a magnetar with a ‘magnetic loop’. This is the interpretation of data collected by ESA’s XMM-Newton space telescope of the magnetar known as SGR 0418, which boasts one of the strongest magnetic fields in the Universe. In order to maintain such a strong magnetic field, the magnetar must have a twisted internal magnetic field, which manifests itself as a small region on the star’s surface, somewhat similar to the localised magnetic fields anchored in sunspots on the Sun. Image © ESA/ATG Medialab
Scientists using ESA’s XMM-Newton space telescope have discovered that a curious dead star has been hiding one of the strongest magnetic fields in the Universe all along, despite earlier suggestions of an unusually low magnetic field.
The object, known as SGR 0418+5729 (or SGR 0418 for short), is a magnetar, a particular kind of neutron star.
A neutron star is the dead core of a once massive star that collapsed in on itself after burning up all its fuel and exploding in a dramatic supernova event. They are extraordinarily dense objects, packing more than the mass of our Sun into a sphere only some 20 km across – about the size of a city.
A small proportion of neutron stars form and live briefly as magnetars, named for their extremely intense magnetic fields, billions to trillions of times greater than those generated in hospital MRI machines, for example. These fields cause magnetars to erupt sporadically with bursts of high-energy radiation.
SGR 0418 lies in our galaxy, about 6500 light years from Earth. It was first detected in June 2009 by space telescopes including NASA’s Fermi and Roscosmos’ Koronas-Photon when it suddenly lit up in X-rays and soft gamma rays. It has been studied subsequently by a fleet of observatories, including ESA’s XMM-Newton.
“Until very recently, all indications were that this magnetar had one of the weakest surface magnetic fields known; at 6 x 1012 Gauss, it was roughly a 100 times lower than for typical magnetars,” said Andrea Tiengo of the Istituto Universitario di Studi Superiori, Pavia, Italy, and lead author of the paper published inNature.
“Understanding these results was a challenge. However, we suspected that SGR 0418 was in fact hiding a much stronger magnetic field, out of reach of our usual analytical techniques.”
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