Chandra X-ray Observatory gathers data on a magnetar discovered in 2020

Shane McGlaun - Jan 11, 2021, 7:23am CST
Chandra X-ray Observatory gathers data on a magnetar discovered in 2020

In 2020, astronomers discovered a new member of an exotic family of objects known as magnetars. More recently, the NASA Chandra X-ray Observatory has made observations that support the idea that the magnetar discovered last year is also a pulsar. A pulsar emits regular pulses of light.

Magnetars are a type of neutron stars that are incredibly dense and comprised mostly of tightly packed neutron. A magnetar forms from the collapsed core of a massive star during a supernova explosion. A Magnetar is different from other neutron stars in that they also have the most powerful known magnetic fields in the universe. NASA notes that the strength of Earth’s magnetic field is approximately 100 Gauss. On the other hand, a magnetar has a magnetic field with a strength of about 1 million billion Gauss.

To add a little more perspective, NASA says if a magnetar were located about 40,000 miles away from Earth, it would wipe the data from all credit cards on the planet. The magnetar in question is called J1818.0-1607. It was discovered on March 12, 2020. It’s the 31st known magnetar out of approximately 3000 known neutron stars. NASA found some interesting details on the magnetar, including that it may be the youngest known magnetar with an age estimated at about 500 years old.

Its age is based on how quickly its rotation rate is slowing, and the assumption that it was born spinning much faster. It also spins faster than any previously discovered magnetar with rotation once every 1.4 seconds. Chandra conducted observations of J1818.0-1607 less than a month after it was discovered using its Swift instrument, providing a high-resolution view of the magnetar in X-rays.

Chandra observations revealed a point source where the magnetar is located, which is surrounded by a diffuse X-ray emission presumably caused by X-rays reflecting off of dust located in its vicinity. Other astronomers have used radio telescopes to look at the magnetar and have determined that it also gives off radio waves. Radiating radio waves implies it has properties similar to that of a typical rotation-powered Pulsar.

Only five magnetar’s, including this one, have been recorded that also act like pulsars. Chandra observations support that idea and concluded that the efficiency the magnetar converts energy from its decreasing rate of spin into x-rays is lower than that typically found for magnetars and likely within the range found for other rotation-powered pulsars.


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