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Space Science

Canadian Astronomers Discover a Magnetar 79

Posted by michael
from the stellar-attraction dept.
trotski writes "The Globe and Mail is running an article about the discovery of a magnetar star by Canadian astronomers. The star, named SGR 1806-20, is located 40,000 light-years from earth. This neutron star is one of only four magnetars ever discovered. Magnetars are characterized by their huge magnetic fields, billions of times stronger than any magnets on Earth. Apparently, if this star was located as far away as the moon, it could demag floppy disks and suck change right out of your pocket."
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Canadian Astronomers Discover a Magnetar

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  • Plus, (Score:4, Funny)

    by Bobulusman (467474) on Wednesday November 06, 2002 @12:13PM (#4608279)
    Having a star as close as the moon would probably be pretty warm, too.
    • Re:Plus, (Score:4, Funny)

      by p4ul13 (560810) on Wednesday November 06, 2002 @12:20PM (#4608361) Homepage
      Damn you for beating me to the punch on that comment.

      The article doesn't explain how they go about detecting such a star (bring a compass into space and see where it points??), but I found the last line amusing:

      "This neutron star could be as small as Winnipeg, but with a temperature several million times warmer," Prof. Safi-Harb said.

      A star that is much warmer than Winnipeg; Imagine that!

      • Re:Plus, (Score:3, Informative)

        The article doesn't explain how they go about detecting such a star

        This one [nasa.gov] does. Sort of.
      • Re:Plus, (Score:5, Informative)

        by wyldeling (471661) on Wednesday November 06, 2002 @01:37PM (#4609141) Homepage
        This one does. [spaceflightnow.com] It was posted on flipcode [flipcode.com] yesterday.

        They explain it was detected by observing the effects the stars magnetic field has on charged particles. With a magnetic field of 10^15 gauss (vs 1-5 for the sun and the 10 - 50 for the Earth), it was mentioned that it won't just suck change out of your pocket, but rearrange the molecules in your body. Sounds like fun, doesn't it.

        • Ahhh hell, I was never pleased with how my molicules were aranged in the first place. Seems like it's time for a welcome change.
        • Re:Plus, (Score:2, Interesting)

          by DrLudicrous (607375)
          10^15 gauss is 10^11 Tesla. An MRI magnet (which is about the size of a large closet) puts out about 1.5 Tesla. The largest MRI magnet being proposed for use on humans is 8 Tesla, at the Ohio State University. This is still over 10 billion times smaller than 10^11 Tesla.

          Just out of curiousity, where does that 100 billion Tesla number come from? I don't recall it from the article.

      • This neutron star could be as small as Winnipeg, but with a temperature several million times warmer

        Hell, my icetea is several hundred times warmer than Winnipeg.

        -
      • Is that true? Are they _that_ hot? That would be about 200,000,000 K, which is pretty damn toasty. How does it avoid being very bright, from black body radiation?

        I though neutron stars were dark?
      • by Myco (473173)
        That's great -- a new standard unit. For area, it's football fields or the state of Texas. For temperature, it's Winnipeg.
      • This site [utexas.edu] has information on everything you want to know about the history of magnetars but were afraid to ask.
    • Yo' da' man (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I ain't a physicist either an' ah don't spell too good but as I
      recollect from here an there [maybe it was Babylon V],
      a neutron dense substance is impervious to a magnetic
      fields.
      .
      In order to permeate a region filled with a given mass, it
      is necessary for the magnetic field to induce"domains"
      in a paramagnetic substance,[like from the latin ('pro'
      magnetic rah, rah, rah, etc)]
      .
      In all the tiny crystals of metals where the electronic shells
      merge together & surge about like schools of tropical fish
      in a coral garden we see them setting up counte magnetic
      fields that essentially linkthe field[lenz' law] to the other
      side in a process called [what else] "connection".
      .
      Magnetomotive Force= Flux * Spacial Impermiability
      look it up its the Ohms' law of 'Magnetics'.
      .
      In a neutron star where the body is pure neutronium
      [Babylon V rah rah rah} it is difficult to set up domains.
      [hey if you know a way you'll make my day & the FBI
      will confiscate your PC] See, because when neutrons
      decay, positive & negative particles emerge in preservation of the "Conservation of Charge Law" n[0] =e[-] + p [+] but I never
      heard of anyone getting a magnetic moment out of
      pure neutroniun..
      .
      All you poor souls worryin' bout the neutron star singing your
      pants don't worry about it its only a 'gedankenexperiment'
      to see if you could follow an argument without being bogged
      down in inconsequentials. Actually' all the star, is a burnt out
      cinder , you know solar pheonix reactions h+C => N[13?]
      etc Got no power. Further, graviton interaction with thermal
      molecules would absorb heat until the planet shattered
      to become confetti on the star's surface, but very cool.
      .
      Knowledge is power, don't expect to find anything substantial
      on a page labeled nasa.gov. They got the power & you move
      the boxes. uh oh I think I just lost my benny points
      SPQR

      .
    • The gravitational pull for any star that close probably could pull the change right out of your pocket, as well (and possibly the eyes right out of your skull).
      • Your eyes would be most likely accelerated at the same rate as the rest of your body, unless you were some how standing on your face on the surface of a very small, very cool, yet very massive star. Pretty bloody unlikely.

  • Wow, imagine what it could do if coins were actually ferrous!
    • Re:Suck Change? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by itwerx (165526)
      Some Canadian coins are...
    • by bill_mcgonigle (4333) on Wednesday November 06, 2002 @01:02PM (#4608781) Homepage Journal
      Maybe the star is Democratic, not magnetic. A Demostar. Then it could suck the change out of your pocket.
      • It could just as well suck the bills out of your pocket, and the dollars off of your paycheck before you even get it...

      • That's right. A Republican star, of course, would not suck change out of your pocket because Republicans don't believe in change. :-)
        • No, but it would suck the blood right out of your neck. Hey, at least blood has iron in it.' What's the deal with iron and magnets, anyway? Why just iron? Why's it so special?
          • Iron, nickel and cobalt, actually. Couldn't tell you why. And for the record Canadian nickels, dimes, quarters, loonies and toonies (and even some of the later silver dollars, which were nickel) are all magnetic. Basically everything but pennies.
          • What's the deal with iron and magnets, anyway? Why just iron? Why's it so special?

            Check out its location in the periodic table. See how it has an incomplete electron shell? The charges aren't balanced because the shell has some potential holes in it, so the atom has a charge. Similar metals also exhibit magnetism.

            Here, the Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] says it more elegantly.
        • That's right. A Republican star, of course, would not suck change out of your pocket because Republicans don't believe in change. :-)
          Actually Republican stars would let their business cronies suck the change out of your pockets and then take their cut...
  • And that makes me the perfect candidate to post here. Seriously though, one would think that a neutron star's magnetic field would extend well past the distance from the moon to the Earth.
    • And that makes me the perfect candidate to post here. Seriously though, one would think that a neutron star's magnetic field would extend well past the distance from the moon to the Earth.

      "Extending" and "being able to suck change out of pockets and slow down locomotives" are two very different things.

      Dipole magnetic fields drop off with the cube of distance, so on the surface of the neutron star (about 80,000 times closer), it would be strong enough to produce very exotic effects.
  • If a star was about as far away as the moon, I think I'd worry about more than pocket change and floppy disks.

    • If a star was about as far away as the moon, I think I'd worry about more than pocket change and floppy disks.

      If a start was about as far away as the moon, I don't think anyone would get the chance to worry about anything...
    • If a star was about as far away as the moon, I think I'd worry about more than pocket change and floppy disks.

      Someone still uses floppies?
  • by mohaine (62567)
    and suck change right out of your pocket.

    That would pretty hard since US coins are all made out of non-magnetic metals.

    • Re:Change (Score:3, Informative)

      by alyosha1 (581809)
      See my previous comment. A strong enough magnetic field really doesn't care what metal something is made of.
  • YARIGISWPT (Score:3, Funny)

    by MarkusQ (450076) on Wednesday November 06, 2002 @12:38PM (#4608527) Journal

    if this star was located as far away as the moon, it could demag floppy disks

    Yet another reason I'm glad I stayed with paper tape.

    -- MarkusQ

  • It could suck the paint off your house and give your family a permanent orange afro...
    • Hello, I just figured I'd check in and tell you that, as the apparent only other person on /. who saw 'Spies Like Us,' I got a chuckle out of your comment.

      ~Philly
  • Magnetar... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Dannon (142147) on Wednesday November 06, 2002 @01:06PM (#4608821) Journal
    Please tell me I'm not the only one here who thinks this sounds like a villain out of an 80's cartoon. Maybe Space Ghost, or Transformers.
  • Apparently (Score:3, Redundant)

    by commonchaos (309500) on Wednesday November 06, 2002 @01:25PM (#4609016) Homepage Journal
    Apparently, if this star was located as far away as the moon, it could demag floppy disks and suck change right out of your pocket.

    Yes, and if this star was located as far away from earth as the moon, we would also be dead.
  • and suck change right out of your pocket.

    IRS does the same, but it's a little bit closer
  • by Kj0n (245572)
    Apparently, if this star was located as far away as the moon, it could demag floppy disks and suck change right out of your pocket.

    <SARCASM>
    When this star was located as far away as the moon, losing the change in my pockets would be the least of my problems.
    </SARCASM>
  • I wonder how hard it would be to move it into earth orbit and get Soundgarden to get back togeather for one song - "Blackhole Sun" with a real blackhole in the background. Just like the video.

    Sure it would be the end of history but it would be the biggest thing in Rock and Roll history. I think it's worth it.

  • ...Magnetar

    The name sounds like a Pokemon, doesn't it?
  • by Viadd (173388) on Wednesday November 06, 2002 @03:08PM (#4610118)
    This is one of four well-known Soft Gamma Repeaters (SGRs). These are neutron stars in or near our galaxy that produce intense blasts of X-ray and soft gamma-ray radiation. Normal neutron stars (e.g. the Crab pulsar) just put out a fairly steady pulsing signal.

    It had been thought that SGRs are neutron stars with magnetic fields of ~1e14 Gauss (compared to the Crab's ~1e12 G or Earths ~1 G). This is a huge field that has enough energy (proportional to magnetic field squared) to power the huge blasts of radiation.

    This new work by Samar Safi-Harb shows that the magnetic field is actually ~1e15 Gauss: 10x as strong and 100x the energy.

  • I found it! (Score:2, Funny)

    by Cervantes (612861)
    Hmmm... several million times warmer than Winnipeg... ok, so a median of 20C, check... sucks change out of your pocket... check.... erases data from great distances... check.

    Ladies and gentleman, I have located the 5th Magnetar... the good ole US of A!

    --
    Laugh while you still have the right..
  • by 4of12 (97621) on Wednesday November 06, 2002 @05:20PM (#4611469) Homepage Journal

    If there are any nearby planets with heavier elements and some range of chemistry, perhaps they could support life forms that derive their principal source of energy from such the magnetar's field.

    Those life forms would have a leg up on us in terms of interfacing with electronic equipment more naturally than we do.

    OTOH, maybe they'd miss out on all the visible spectrum features we make use of for our eyeballs.

    • If there are any nearby planets with heavier elements and some range of chemistry, perhaps they could support life forms that derive their principal source of energy from such the magnetar's field.

      This is an interesting thought. However, in this case, they (and the planet) would likely be boiled to vapour by the x- and gamma-ray bursts that let us know about the star's magnetic field in the first place.

      Magnetic effects around gas giants, while far, far weaker, might still be strong enough to play a role in the evolution of any creatures on/in gas giant moons, though.

      For a couple of interesting sci-fi books about life in and around neutron stars, check out "The Integral Trees"/"The Smoke Ring", by Larry Niven, and "Dragon's Egg", by Robert Forward.
  • The star -- one of only four stars known as magnetars -- is billions of times stronger than the most powerful magnets on Earth.

    Well golly! Really?
    A stellar object that has more power than something man-made? How could that be?

    I mean, they're making this acessible to the man of the street, that's allright, but do they have to assume that the man on the street is that dumb?
  • During the explosion, a massive star dies and what remains is a compact stellar object that is composed entirely of neutrons -- the raw building blocks of matter.

    Hmm, I never knew that neutrons were the raw building blocks of matter. Last I checked, they were just baryons (a class that also includes protons), and are themselves composed of constituent parts known as quarks (down and up quarks in this case).

    This just goes to show the amount of science illiteracy that exists in our society. Even a journalist writing an article about a scientific discovery can't get basic concepts straight.

    • Hmm, I never knew that neutrons were the raw building blocks of matter. Last I checked, they were just baryons (a class that also includes protons), and are themselves composed of constituent parts known as quarks (down and up quarks in this case).

      I can understand your need to nit pick, but actually, neutrons ARE raw building blocks of matter. Correct that they arent the ONLY raw building blocks of matter, but never the less they are a portion.

      This just goes to show the amount of science illiteracy that exists in our society

      how about conceptual illiteracy? An analogy was being used to describe the homogenous physical makup of this star, being neutrons, to identical blocks that compose it.

      besides, for 90% of people reading this article, the information and analogy presented expresses the concept just fine.

      -SiliconFool
  • "Well it certainly does suck..."
  • [insert canadian joke, eh?]

"Regardless of the legal speed limit, your Buick must be operated at speeds faster than 85 MPH (140kph)." -- 1987 Buick Grand National owners manual.

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