Astronomers have made a groundbreaking discovery that may finally unravel the mysteries of magnetars—the strongest magnets in the universe. Using an array of telescopes from around the world, including the European Southern Observatory (ESO), researchers have found a “living star” that is expected to evolve into a magnetar. This marks the discovery of a new kind of star called a “massive magnetic helium star,” helping us better understand the origins of magnetars.
Magnetars are dead stars that boast magnetic fields far stronger than any other object in the universe. While these cosmic magnets are scattered across our galaxy, scientists are still puzzled about how they are born.
A Century-Old Mystery Solved
The star in question, HD 45166, has been observed for more than a century but has eluded explanation due to its unusual characteristics. “This star became a bit of an obsession of mine,” says Tomer Shenar, lead author of the study and an astronomer at the University of Amsterdam, in a statement. Shenar and co-author Julia Bodensteiner, an ESO astronomer based in Germany, refer to HD 45166 as the “zombie star” because of its unique qualities.
HD 45166 is located about 3,000 light-years away in the constellation Monoceros. It’s puzzled scientists because it didn’t fit any of the standard models used to describe stars. The researchers finally cracked the code by using multiple telescopes, including the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope and ESO’s La Silla Observatory.
Shenar had a hunch that magnetic fields were the key to understanding this enigmatic star. “I remember having a Eureka moment while reading the literature: ‘What if the star is magnetic?’,” Shenar recalls.
The team’s data was confirmed by Gregg Wade, an expert on magnetic fields in stars, who told Shenar: “Well my friend, whatever this thing is — it is definitely magnetic.”
What makes HD 45166 stand out is its incredibly strong magnetic field of 43,000 gauss, which is almost 100,000 times stronger than Earth’s magnetic field. “The entire surface of the helium star has a magnetic field almost 100,000 times stronger than Earth’s,” explains co-author Pablo Marchant, an astronomer at KU Leuven’s Institute of Astronomy in Belgium.
The Future of HD 45166 and Magnetars
According to the team’s calculations, HD 45166 will eventually become a magnetar. As it ages and collapses under its own gravity, its magnetic field is expected to strengthen to around 100 trillion gauss, making it the most powerful magnet in the universe.
Furthermore, the team discovered that HD 45166 is about twice the mass of our Sun and has a companion star that orbits it at a much greater distance than previously thought. They also believe that HD 45166 came into existence through the merger of two smaller helium-rich stars.
“Our findings completely reshape our understanding of HD 45166,” concludes Bodensteiner.
This groundbreaking research adds a new chapter to our understanding of stars and serves as a vital clue to solving the longstanding puzzle of how magnetars are formed.
- Astronomers have discovered a new type of star, called a “massive magnetic helium star,” believed to evolve into a magnetar—the universe’s strongest magnet.
- The star, known as HD 45166, has been observed for over 100 years but has long puzzled scientists because it did not fit conventional models. It is located 3,000 light-years away in the constellation Monoceros.
- Researchers used a range of telescopes, including the European Southern Observatory’s facilities, and found that HD 45166 has an incredibly strong magnetic field—43,000 gauss, almost 100,000 times stronger than Earth’s magnetic field.
- This discovery is a crucial step in understanding how magnetars are formed. As HD 45166 evolves, its magnetic field is expected to strengthen to around 100 trillion gauss, making it the most powerful magnet in the universe.
- The star is around twice the mass of the Sun, has a far-away orbiting companion star, and likely formed from the merger of two smaller helium-rich stars.
The research is published in the journal Science.