Nav: Home

Giant eruption reveals 'dead' star

June 16, 2009

An enormous eruption has found its way to Earth after travelling for many thousands of years across space. Studying this blast with ESA's XMM-Newton and Integral space observatories, astronomers have discovered a dead star belonging to a rare group: the magnetars.

X-Rays from the giant outburst arrived on Earth on 22 August 2008, and triggered an automatic sensor on the NASA-led, international Swift satellite. Just twelve hours later, XMM-Newton zeroed in and began to collect the radiation, allowing the most detailed spectral study of the decay of a magnetar outburst.

The outburst lasted for more than four months, during which time hundreds of smaller bursts were measured. Nanda Rea from the University of Amsterdam led the team that performed the research. "Magnetars allow us to study extreme matter conditions that cannot be reproduced on Earth," she says.

Magnetars are the most intensely magnetised objects in the Universe. Their magnetic fields are some 10 000 million times stronger than Earth's. If a magnetar were to magically appear at half the Moon's distance from Earth, its magnetic field would wipe the details off every credit card on Earth.

This particular magnetar, known as SGR 0501+4516, is estimated to lie about 15 000 light-years away, and was undiscovered until its outburst gave it away. An outburst takes place when the unstable configuration of the magnetic field pulls the magnetar's crust, allowing matter to spew outwards in an exotic volcanic eruption. This matter tangles with the magnetic field which itself can change its configuration, releasing more energy. And this was where Integral came in.

Only five days after the big eruption, Integral detected highly energetic X-rays coming from the outburst, beyond the energy range that XMM-Newton can see. It is the first time such transient X-ray emission has been detected during the outburst. It disappeared within 10 days and was probably generated as the magnetic configuration changed.

Magnetar outbursts can supply as much energy to Earth as solar flares, despite the fact they are far across our Galaxy, whereas the Sun is at our celestial doorstep. There are two ideas as to how a magnetar forms. One is that it is the tiny core left behind after a highly magnetic star has died. But such magnetic stars are very rare, with just a few known in our Galaxy.

Another suggestion is that during the death of a normal star, its tiny core is accelerated, providing a dynamo that strengthens its magnetic field, turning it into a magnetar.

Currently most astronomers favour the first idea but as yet they have no conclusive proof. "If we could just find a magnetar in a cluster of highly magnetic stars, that would prove it," says Rea.

So far only 15 magnetars in total are known in our Galaxy. SGR 0501+4516 is the first new soft gamma repeater, one of the two types of magnetars, discovered after a decade of searches. So, astronomers continue to search for more, waiting for the next giant eruption. As for their newly discovered SGR 0501+4516, the team has been granted time to return and observe it again next year with XMM-Newton. Now they know where to look, they hope to detect the object in a quiescent state, rather than in outburst, so that they can study the calm after a big storm.
-end-


European Space Agency

Related Magnetic Field Articles:

Understanding stars: How tornado-shaped flow in a dynamo strengthens the magnetic field
A new simulation based on the von-Kármán-Sodium (VKS) dynamo experiment takes a closer look at how the liquid vortex created by the device generates a magnetic field.
'Quartz' crystals at the Earth's core power its magnetic field
Scientists at the Earth-Life Science Institute at the Tokyo Institute of Technology report in Nature (Fen.
Brightest neutron star yet has a multipolar magnetic field
Scientists have identified a neutron star that is consuming material so fast it emits more x-rays than any other.
Confirmation of Wendelstein 7-X magnetic field
Physicist Sam Lazerson of the US Department of Energy's Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory has teamed with German scientists to confirm that the Wendelstein 7-X fusion energy device called a stellarator in Greifswald, Germany, produces high-quality magnetic fields that are consistent with their complex design.
High-precision magnetic field sensing
Scientists have developed a highly sensitive sensor to detect tiny changes in strong magnetic fields.
Brilliant burst in space reveals universe's magnetic field
Scientists have detected the brightest fast burst of radio waves in space to date -- locating the source of the event with more precision than previous efforts.
Optical magnetic field sensor can detect signals from the nervous system
The human body is controlled by electrical impulses in the brain, the heart and nervous system.
What did Earth's ancient magnetic field look like?
New work from Carnegie's Peter Driscoll suggests Earth's ancient magnetic field was significantly different than the present day field, originating from several poles rather than the familiar two.
Just what sustains Earth's magnetic field anyway?
Earth's magnetic field shields us from deadly cosmic radiation, and without it, life as we know it could not exist here.
Ironing out the mystery of Earth's magnetic field
The Earth's magnetic field has been existing for at least 3.4 billion years thanks to the low heat conduction capability of iron in the planet's core.

Related Magnetic Field Reading:

Know Your Magnetic Field: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life.
by William E. Gray (Author)

View Details


Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction, 1960s to Today
by Valerie Cassel Oliver (Author), Lowery Stokes Sims (Author), Erin Dziedzic (Editor), Melissa Messina (Editor)

In the history of American art, the contributions of African American artists to the development of abstraction have been largely overlooked.

Magnetic Fields aims to change this perspective by focusing on nonrepresentational work by women artists of color, presenting a more complete presentation of American abstraction than has previously been offered.

Intergenerational in scope, Magnetic Fields includes more than 20 artists born between 1891 and 1981, among them Lilian Thomas Burwell, Mildred Thompson, Candida Alvarez, Betty Blayton, Nanette... View Details


Magnetic Field(s)
by Ron Loewinsohn (Author), Steve Erickson (Preface)

Organized around the idea that "you can't know what a magnetic field is like unless you're inside of it, " Ron Loewinsohn's first novel opens from the disturbing perspective of a burglar in the midst of a robbery and travels through the thoughts and experiences (both real and imaginary) of a group of characters whose lives are connected both coincidentally and intimately. All of the characters have a common desire to imagine and invent rather horrifying stories about the lives of people around them. As the novel develops, certain phrasings and images recur improbably, drawing the reader into... View Details


Power Tools for Health: How Pulsed Magnetic Fields (Pemfs) Help You
by Msc William Pawluk MD (Author), Caitlin Layne (Author)

Power tools revolutionized the building of your family home.
Now they will revolutionize your health.

Power Tools for Health will teach you to how to:
- treat new or chronic health conditions like pain, anxiety, insomnia, diabetes and injuries
- avoid annoying or potentially harmful side effects from pharmaceuticals or other treatments
- enhance and accelerate recovery from surgery

Research shows PEMFs accelerate the healing of almost any cell, tissue, organ, or condition.
Unlike much of modern medicine, which mostly focuses on symptom... View Details


Earth's Magnetic Field Secrets: An Illusion Mixed With Reality
by Dennis Brooks (Author)

The Old Theory Until now, there was only one theory regarding the source of Earth's magnetic field, which is the internal dynamo theory. This theory was accepted because it offered the best explanation at the time. Also, much research has been done to support the theory. According to the internal dynamo theory, a dynamo near the center of the planet generates the current that produces the magnetic field. This dynamo would be in the liquid outer core of the planet. It would produce the magnetic axis and project it from the planet. The axis would expand and spread the magnetic field around the... View Details


Magnetic Fields: A Comprehensive Theoretical Treatise for Practical Use
by Heinz E. Knoepfel (Author)

A unique resource for physicists and engineers working with magnetic fields
An understanding of magnetic phenomena is essential for anyone working on the practical application of electromagnetic theory. Magnetic Fields: A Comprehensive Theoretical Treatise for Practical Use provides physicists and engineers with a thorough treatment of the magnetic aspects of classical electromagnetic theory, focusing on key issues and problems arising in the generation and application of magnetic fields. From magnetic potentials and diffusion phenomena to magnetohydrodynamics and properties of... View Details


The Magnetic Fields
by André Breton (Author), Philippe Soupault (Author), David Gascoyne (Translator)

tr David Gascoyne View Details


Magnetic Fields' 69 Love Songs: A Field Guide (33 1/3)
by LD Beghtol (Author), Ken Emerson (Introduction)

A fully illustrated oral history of the Magnetic Fields' 1999 triple album, 69 Love Songs - an album that was afforded "classic" status by many almost as soon as it was released. LD Beghtol's book is chatty, incestuous, funny, dark, digressive, sexy, maddening, and delightful in equal measures. It documents a vital and influential scene from the inside, involving ukuleles and tears, citations and footnotes, analogue drum machines, and floods of cognac. Oh, and a crossword puzzle too.



The centre of the book is the secret history of these tuneful, acerbic, and sometimes... View Details


Magnetic Fields in the Solar System: Planets, Moons and Solar Wind Interactions (Astrophysics and Space Science Library)
by Hermann Lühr (Editor), Johannes Wicht (Editor), Stuart A. Gilder (Editor), Matthias Holschneider (Editor)

This book addresses and reviews many of the still little understood questions related to the processes underlying planetary magnetic fields and their interaction with the solar wind. With focus on research carried out within the German Priority Program ”PlanetMag”, it also provides an overview of the most recent research in the field.

Magnetic fields play an important role in making a planet habitable by protecting the environment from the solar wind. Without the geomagnetic field, for example, life on Earth as we know it would not be possible. And results from recent space... View Details


Magnetic Field Therapy Handbook: Balancing Your Energy Field
by Walls (Author)

Book by Walls View Details

Best Science Podcasts 2018

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2018. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Attention Please
In an age of constant information and infinite distractions, how can we pay more attention to our ... attention? This hour, TED speakers explore the battle for our awareness during the digital age. Guests include sociologist Zeynep Tufekci, podcast host Manoush Zomorodi, neuroscientist Amishi Jha, designer Tristan Harris, and computer scientist Jaron Lanier.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#475 Mother Nature is Trying to Kill You (Rebroadcast)
This week, we're learning how deadly and delightful our planet and its ecosystem can be. We're joined by biologist Dan Riskin, co-host of Discovery Canada's Daily Planet, to talk about his book "Mother Nature Is Trying to Kill You: a Lively Tour Through the Dark Side of the Natural World." And we'll talk to astronomer and author Phil Plait about Science Getaways, his company that offers educational vacation experiences for science lovers.