Assistant Professor of Astronomy Bryan Gaensler and colleagues have discovered the source of powerful magnetic objects in the universe called magnetars, finding that some of the biggest stars in the cosmos become the strongest magnets when they die.
First discovered in 1998, a magnetar is an exotic kind of neutron star – a city-sized ball of neutrons created when a massive star’s core collapses at the end of its lifetime. A magnetar typically has a magnetic field more than one quadrillion times (1 followed by 15 zeroes) stronger than the Earth’s magnetic field.
Only about 10 magnetars are known.
“The source of these very powerful magnetic objects has been a mystery since the first was discovered in 1998. Now, we think we have solved that mystery,” says Gaensler.
The team’s result will be published in an upcoming issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
For more information, see the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Web site at http://www.cfa.harvard.edu/press/pr0503.html.
– Alvin Powell