Mysterious Star Hints at Magnetar Formation in the Universe
In a surprising astronomical discovery, a star with an unusually powerful magnetic field has hinted at the conditions that could lead to the birth of a magnetar—a type of extremely magnetized neutron star. Roughly 10% of neutron stars become magnetars, and scientists are still unraveling the processes that transform a supernova into these highly magnetized compact objects. The recent finding offers clues to the prerequisites for the formation of a magnetar, uncovering an enigmatic star with a magnetic field strength that surpasses all known scientific models.
The focus of this study was a massive star within the binary system HD 45166, located 3000 light-years away. The privilege of observing HD 45166 was granted to astronomer Tomer Shenar from the University of Amsterdam (Netherlands). The primary star in the system exhibited characteristics akin to those of a Wolf-Rayet star—known for their high temperatures, luminosity, and late-stage evolutionary status, often low in hydrogen content and rich in helium. However, HD 45166 possessed a significant departure from typical Wolf-Rayet stars—its mass was considerably lower than anticipated.
This anomaly drove the scientist to access the most advanced astronomical instruments. Shenar speculated that the star behaved like a Wolf-Rayet star but had a significantly reduced mass due to a strong magnetic field, a trait previously unseen in such stars. The magnetic field strength of the primary star in HD 45166 proved to be extraordinary for objects of its kind, reaching up to 43,000 gauss. For context, Earth’s magnetic field strength is a mere 0.5 gauss.
“In essence, this is an object that doesn’t match our models and theories,” Shenar explained in an interview with CNN.
The scientist believes he may have discovered a star on its way to becoming a magnetar. This transformation is projected to occur approximately a million years from now, when the star completes its supernova stage, sheds its outer layers, and compresses its core into a neutron star. While one possible scenario for the formation of magnetars, it remains speculative.
The question of how a star of this well-studied type acquired such an extreme magnetic field remains. According to Shenar, as detailed in his article in the journal Science, the HD 45166 system initially contained three stars, one of which was engulfed by the primary star. The heavy core of the absorbed star could theoretically explain the occurrence of a strong magnetic field. While speculative, this discovery allows astronomers to search the skies for potentially new “massive helium magnetic” star types to corroborate or disprove the embryonic magnetar revelation.
- I'm Vasyl Kolomiiets, a seasoned tech journalist regularly contributing to global publications. Having a profound background in information technologies, I seamlessly blended my technical expertise with my passion for writing, venturing into technology journalism. I've covered a wide range of topics including cutting-edge developments and their impacts on society, contributing to leading tech platforms.
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