Saturday, October 5, 2013

Magnetars: What Are They?

It all starts with a bang. Neutron stars are, as the name implies, composed almost exclusively out of neutrons. These neutron stars are a type of stellar remnant that result from the supernovae explosions of particularly massive stars. The neutron star is exceptionally dense and typically very small. Though a neutron star would likely have a diameter of roughly 20-25 km, it would typically have around twice the mass of the sun. For comparison, a marathon is about 42 kilometers. So if you’ve ever ran a marathon, chances are you ran further than the diameter of a large neutron star--imagine that, you could have run around an entire star--well, maybe not, as said star has around 333,000 times the mass of our planet.

A normal neutron star's primary feature is typically its powerful gravitation field, which is a product of the large mass and low volume. But some of these stellar remnants have some unusual properties. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the magnetar. The Magnetar is a widely accepted variation on a neutron star, and a common explanation for certain phenomena like soft gamma repeaters and anomalous X-ray pulsars. 
The magnetar is, at the moment, the most powerful magnetic object known to exist. In fact, the magnetar’s magnetic field is powerful enough that it would be lethal to go anywhere near one. A university of Texas paper suggests that life itself would be impossible within a thousand kilometers of a magnetar, though I doubt it would be a particularly good idea to be near one for quite a ways outside of that distance.

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