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Magneto's got nothing on this neutron star's record-breaking magnetic field

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Sep 13, 2020, 7:52 PM EDT (Updated)

Marvel's Master of Metals, Magneto, would be instantly attracted to newly announced details that international astronomers have detected and observed the most powerful magnetic field ever witnessed in the universe.

Studying X-ray signals coming from a well-known neutron star, a team representing the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen has calculated that its fluctuating magnetic field is tens of millions of times stronger than any ever created in a lab on Earth.

Intense X-ray signals emanating from the neutron star, officially classified as GRO J1008-57, have allowed astronomers to deduce that its massive magnetic field figures to be millions of times stronger than anything experimented with in laboratories on our planet. 

Credit: Getty Images

This binary neutron star is actually categorized into a narrow subtype called an accreting X-ray pulsar. It consists of a neutron star on a wide, eccentric orbit around a Be type companion star.

Every time the neutron star passes its periastron, mass is accreted from the circumstellar disk of the companion onto the neutron star magnetic poles. This flashing pulsar blasts out concentrated beams of electromagnetic radiation that occasionally pass over the Earth like a radical lighthouse beam.

During a particularly robust outburst back in August 2017, researchers observed and investigated the brilliant pulsar's eruption using the Hard X-ray Modulation Telescope (Insight-HXMT), China's X-ray space observatory, to assess the strength of GRO J1008-57's magnetic field.

Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences

Their findings were published last month in the online scientific site The Astrophysical Journal, where they indicated that they'd utilized a distinctive signature called a cyclotron resonant scattering feature (CRSF).

These are rare phenomena observed at the site of neutron stars with magnetic fields far beyond the strongest magnetic fields produced in Earth labs, and whose patterns occur when X-ray photons toss off plasma electrons at the surface.

This specific CRSF was found to have an energy of 90 keV, and launching from that fact, scientists extrapolated out the astonishing conclusion that the magnetic field of this pulsar maxed out at nearly one billion Tesla, using the standard unit of measurement to define the magnetic flux density.

This defines it as the single most powerful magnetic field ever detected in the universe, light years ahead of the 1,200-Tesla mark seen by a team at the University of Tokyo back in 2018.

Credit: Getty Images

While this is the strongest that’s been directly detected, it’s hypothesized, though not directly observed, that even more supercharged versions of neutron stars, known as magnetars, could be home to mega magnetic fields as radically pronounced as 100 billion Tesla. That's one mighty magnet!

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