As Earth’s telescopes continue to scan the universe and help us spot strange bursts of light coming from all directions. Now, a team of scientists says it has identified the origin of one such burst as one of the most magnetic objects in existence: a magnetar. And the scientists say the magnetar, which is a stellar core remnant, is right here in our own galaxy.
The Verge picked up on the scientists’ findings, which were recently published in the journal, Nature. The burst of non-visible light—consisting of both X-ray lightwaves and a fast burst of radio waves (or FRB)—was observed in April of this year, when telescopes picked up on the unique signature; one never before observed.
“Before this event [in April], a wide variety of scenarios could explain the origin of FRBs,” Chris Bochenek said in a NASA press release. Bochenek, a doctoral student in astrophysics at Caltech who led one study of the event, added that “While there may still be exciting twists in the story of FRBs in the future…it’s [now] fair to say that most FRBs come from magnetars until proven otherwise.” MORE BELOW THE BREAK.
A magnetar is a type of neutron star (a supermassive star remnant) that has an extraordinary magnetic field. In fact, a magnetar’s magnetic field is 10,000 times stronger than a neutron star’s magnetic field. For reference, this would be about one trillion times more powerful than the one surrounding Earth.
“The radio burst was far brighter than anything [scientists observed] before, so we immediately knew it was an exciting event,” Paul Scholz told NASA. Scholz, a researcher involved with a related study, added that this event links two seemingly disparate phenomena; one being FRBs coming from outside our galaxy, and the other being the existence of magnetars within our galaxy.
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Chris Smith (USRA)
In order to confirm definitively the connection between FRBs and magnetars, scientists have a new task ahead of them. One that’ll require finding an FRB outside our galaxy that coincides with an X-ray burst from the same source. If scientists do indeed identify this signature outside of our galaxy, it’d mean it’s almost certainly coming from a magnetar. And that the super-dense, ultra-magnetic stellar remnants are possibly far more prevalent than we now know.
Feature image: NASA