July 16, 2012
Split Personality Star Discovered
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Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
One recently discovered star seems to have a split personality, with both a magnetar and pulsar consuming the object.
The European Space Agency (ESA) said the newly discovered star appears to be a pulsar while hiding an intense internal magnetic field like a magnetar.
The internal field is many times stronger than its external magnetic field, leading to its entry into the new class of "low-field magnetars."
Magnetars are a type of neutron star, which are the dead cores of massive stars that have collapsed in on themselves after burning up all their fuel. They typically display bright, persistent X-ray emissions and the most intense magnetic fields known in the Universe.
Pulsars are spinning neutron stars, with much lower magnetic fields than magnetars that appear to pulse radio waves as they rotate. They are seen when beams of radiation rotate through our line of sight from Earth, rather than like the sweeping beam of a lighthouse, ESA said.
An animation created by ESA shows the turbulent interior arising as a result of the twisted magnetic field lines.
"As the field lines unwind, energy is released as a steady burst of X-rays through fractures in the star´s ℠crust´," ESA wrote in a press release.
Only two other examples of the low-field magnetars are known to exist, the first of which was discovered in 2010, and the second in July 2011.
NASA's Rossi X-Ray Timing Explorer and Chandra X-ray Observatory helped alert astronomers of the star's activity, along with ESA´s XMM-Newton and Japan´s Suzaku satellite, as well as the ground-based Gran Telescopio Canarias and the Green Bank Telescope.
"The discovery of a second member of this rare family of star strengthens the idea that magnetar-like behavior may be much more widespread than believed in the past," ESA said.