A magnet is any piece of material (mostly iron) that exhibits properties of magnetism — the ability of attracting other iron-containing objects. You’re pretty much aware of magnets. Its useful in our electronic devices, and the Earth’s geomagnetic field that shields us against the ultraviolet radiation from the Sun. But have you ever heard of magnetars? They are one of the most extreme and mysterious objects in space, surprisingly small and ridiculously dense, they are the powerful magnetic forces in the entire universe.
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The Magnetic Beast
First thing first, before we get into how weird magnetars are, let’s step back and take a crash course about how they even come to exist in the first place to begin with. At the final stage of a star’s life — if it’s 1.2 times the mass of our Sun — then the star explodes into a supernova; as it collapses in on itself, it blasts off so bright that outshines all others, … enriching the galaxy with new elements before fading away. The leftover is a neutron star: the ridiculously dense core of a star after a supernova, often the diameter of a small city, an ice cream scoop of its matter outweighs at least a billion tons.
Magnetars are a kind of neutron star. They rotate ridiculously fast — several hundred times per second fast. All that density coupled with this fast rotation is what gives rise to a magnetar’s incredible magnetic properties, and thus the powerful magnet in the universe. The magnetic field of a magnetar is ridiculously powerful. Even the average neutron star has a magnetic field about a trillion times more powerful than Earth’s. But a magnetar? Scientists extrapolate that it is about 1,000 trilliontimes that of Earth. Let that settle down for a moment, this is not even the most bizarre feature.
Cosmic Magnetar Attacks
You just wondered, “what’s that caption?” Yes, magnetars do attack. Scientists had been on the search for magnetars ever since the late 1970s, when they detected a flash of gamma ray burst (GRB), it was later identified that its source was from a magnetar known as SGR 0525-66, (and oh, to no surprise, magnetars have weird names as well). This magnetar was thought to have pulsed through our Solar System, resulting in the disruption of space equipment and several atmospheric abnormalities. Yikes! Luckily it was way far out in the galaxy.
Over the decades since, fewer than 25 neutron stars out of a numbing 2,000 across the galaxy have been dubbed magnetars, though there are a dozen more candidates pending confirmation. In 2004, the effects of a magnetar called SGR 1806-20, abruptly 50,000 lightyears away, that was due to a starquake (yes, that’s a thing) was so powerful enough to impact the Earth. It damaged and disabled orbiting satellites, and even partially ionized the upper atmosphere of our planet. Even at 50,000 lightyears, a magnetar is such a force to reckon with.
Keep Off Magneto
And that’s in fact no doubt, that magnetars are the most dangerous magnets that’s been discovered in the universe so far. A magnetar’s magnetic field can have impact on anything even coming within 600 miles. It is so powerful that it can destroy your nervous system and change even your molecular structure. Just get a little bit closer and it’s gravitational force would literally shred you into atoms. The good news is, the closest magnetar to our solar system is thousands of lightyears away. So it seems scientists will just have to study these magnetic beasts from afar.
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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Mon, May 20, 2019.