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April 5, 2007

Astronomers using data from several X-ray satellites have caught a magnetar - the remnant of a massive star with an incredibly strong magnetic field - in a sort of giant cosmic blench.

When it comes to eerie astrophysical effects, the neutron stars commonly known as magnetars are hard to beat. The massive remnants of exploded stars, magnetars are the size of mountains but weigh as much as the sun, and have magnetic fields hundreds of trillions of times more powerful than the Earth's, which pushes our compass needles north. The decay of these powerful magnetic fields powers the emission of very energetic radiation, usually in the form of X-rays or Gamma Rays.

A seismic event accompanied by a powerful burst was observed on one such magnetar, Westerlund 1 in September 2005. Located in a star cluster about 15 000 light-years away in the Ara constellation in the southern hemisphere, the magnetar goes by the unwieldy official name CXOU J164710.2-455216.

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