Artist's impression of a magnetar and an XMM X-ray lightcurve of the outburst
Credit: Magnetar Illustration: NASA, SGR0501+4516 burst data (below): ESA/XMM-Newton (Rea et al. 2009)

Outburst of a Magnetic Personality

Magnetars are a subset of stellar relics with extreme magnetic fields, in fact the strongest magnetic fields in the known Universe. The origin of these objects is unclear - they may be the dead remnants of progenitor stars possessing unusually strong magnetic fields, or maybe they come from stars which are fairly mundane magnets, and their fields get enhanced somehow when the star dies. In any event these stars are objects of fascination for astrophysicists, since magnetars are unique laboratories for studying the effects of matter under the influence of magnetic fields far stronger than can be produced in any earthly laboratory. As of this writing, only 18 magnetars have been identified, the most recent being an object called SGR 0501+4516. This magnetar was first identified by an outburst seen by the Swift Gamma-ray burst hunter. Swift notified astronomers of the outburst, and the powerful XMM-Newton X-ray observatory was quickly pointed at the area, collecting data which allowed astronomers to study in exquisite detail the burst behavior. The image above shows an artist's impression of the strong magnetic field of a magnetar, while the spiky brightness variations of the outburst as seen by XMM-Newton over about one-half a day on 2008 August 23rd are shown below it. Observations with the INTEGRAL Gamma-ray observatory detected highly energetic X-rays coming from the outburst, the first time such transient X-ray emission has been detected during a magnetar outburst.
Published: August 3, 2009

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Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran
Last modified Friday, 20-Apr-2012 15:20:51 EDT