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Space News

Ghostly Ring Found Circling Dead Star 207

Roland Piquepaille writes "An international team of scientists has found a strange ring around a dead star by using images taken by NASA's Spitzer space telescope. This star, called SGR 1900+14, belongs to a class of objects known as magnetars. According to NASA, a magnetar is 'a highly magnetized neutron star and the remnant of a brilliant supernova explosion signaling the death throes of a massive star.' So far, about a dozen magnetars have been found. An amazing thing about these stellar objects is their magnetic field. One of the researchers said that 'magnetars possess magnetic fields a million billion times stronger than the magnetic field of the Earth.'
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Ghostly Ring Found Circling Dead Star

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  • by unity100 ( 970058 ) on Monday June 02, 2008 @06:28PM (#23632341) Homepage Journal
    "Dementor" announced that he intends to conquer all 3 magnetars and their orbital satellites.

    Judge Dredd was not available for comment.
  • The ring (Score:5, Funny)

    by Plazmid ( 1132467 ) on Monday June 02, 2008 @06:30PM (#23632357)
    Oh great, now that NASA posted pictures on the internet of a ghostly ring, a lot of people are going to die seven days from now.
  • Pssst! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Sta7ic ( 819090 ) on Monday June 02, 2008 @06:36PM (#23632423)
    "A million billion" is 10^6 * 10^9 = 10^15 ... we also call that "a quadrillion".

    I'd be pretty excited about studying these things, were I a physical scientist. When you get some massively powerful EMF, electrons and protons must have very "interesting" behavior.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mark-t ( 151149 )
      Well, that depends... iirc, a billion in the UK is not the same thing as a billion here. A billion here is 10^9, whereas if memory serves me correctly a billion in the UK is a million million, or 10^12. Personally I wish that they would just use scientific notation with numbers over a million, so that we'd really know what sort of order of magnitude we're talking about here. The difference between the US and UK systems just gets worse as the magnitudes get larger.
    • Re:Pssst! (Score:4, Interesting)

      by QuoteMstr ( 55051 ) <dan.colascione@gmail.com> on Monday June 02, 2008 @08:20PM (#23633319)
      I'm not a physicist, but I'm still fascinated by astronomical phenomena like this. Can anyone tell me what the effects of ultra-strong magnetic fields would be on a living creature? I know we can levitate frogs with powerful magnets [hfml.ru.nl], but nothing strange happens to the frog itself. Can we withstand a magnetic field of any strength?
      • Re:Pssst! (Score:5, Informative)

        by guruevi ( 827432 ) <`moc.stiucricve' `ta' `ive'> on Monday June 02, 2008 @10:51PM (#23634251) Homepage
        Well, we can withstand quite large magnetic fields. MRI scanners are up to 16T right now (experimental) and the side effects minimal. I work in a 3T environment, and the only thing that is a problem is metal in, on or around the body, they get ripped straight out into the bore as soon as you pass the .5 Gauss line. The other precaution is when body parts form loops (like crossed arms or legs or arms/hands holding other body parts) they could potentially cause electric shocks and minor burns. Minor tingling or heat sensations of the extremities is considered not harmful. I think however, in the range (really close since magnetic fields drop with distance) of these type of things you might be able to shock or burn somebody to dead since their body acts as a coil.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          they get ripped straight out into the bore as soon as you pass the .5 Gauss line.
          I think you must have meant .5 Tesla, as .5 Gauss is approximately the strength of the Earth's magnetic field.
        • Minor tingling or heat sensations of the extremities is considered not harmful.
          I take it that you're not the owner of a "mobile phone radiation shield [sarshield.com]." Except perhaps, as a condom holder or some similar useful use.
        • So how large must the magnetic field be to rip the iron out of a person's red blood cells?
      • Re:Pssst! (Score:5, Informative)

        by Lazarian ( 906722 ) on Monday June 02, 2008 @11:05PM (#23634349)
        I doubt any living thing could exist in magnetic fields that powerful. Wikipedia has some info... [wikipedia.org]

        The magnetic field of a magnetar would be lethal even at a distance of 1000 km, tearing tissues due to the diamagnetism of water.

        Since magnetars rotate, I would guess that a person would probably be vaporized before being torn apart since you'd be travelling through magnetic flux fields. Such powerful fields have unusual effects on matter...

        X-ray photons readily split in two or merge together. The vacuum itself is polarized, becoming strongly birefringent, like a calcite crystal. Atoms are deformed into long cylinders thinner than the quantum-relativistic wavelength of an electron.

        In a field of about 105 teslas atomic orbitals deform into cigar shapes. At 1010 teslas, a hydrogen atom becomes a spindle 200 times narrower than its normal diameter.

        I think the most powerful field ever generated in a lab was less than 200 tesla.

        • Re:Pssst! (Score:5, Interesting)

          by ceoyoyo ( 59147 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2008 @12:59AM (#23634911)
          Interesting that we can generate a field strong enough to noticeably deform atomic orbitals.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by meringuoid ( 568297 )
            Interesting that we can generate a field strong enough to noticeably deform atomic orbitals.

            We can't. Copying and pasting from Wikipedia loses the superscript: that was 10^5 Tesla. Ten thousand Tesla. Way beyond our current capabilities :-)

        • by Fallen Andy ( 795676 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2008 @03:30AM (#23635479)

          In a field of about 105 teslas atomic orbitals deform into cigar shapes. At 1010 teslas, a hydrogen atom becomes a spindle 200 times narrower than its normal diameter.

          I think the most powerful field ever generated in a lab was less than 200 tesla.

          Which sort of implies that some *really* weird chemistry might be possible. Chemistry that simply wouldn't happen under more normal conditions. Cue the Sci Fi stories...


          • by Gilmoure ( 18428 )
            Atomic Tesla vs. Mansquito?

            Oh, excuse me, I thought you said SciFi Channel stories.

            My bad.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        I would have to venture a guess and say that there *must* be some upper limit on the number of Gauss a human body can be subjected to before physiological changes are noticed. Whatever that upper limit is though, it is far more powerful than anything you are likely to be exposed to on Earth. MRI machines expose you to fields of 5,000 to 30,000 Gauss. From Wikipedia and other sources I came up with the following values for common sources of magnetic flux energy: Earth's magnetic field .5 Gauss

        small iron ma

      • Re:Pssst! (Score:5, Informative)

        by reverseengineer ( 580922 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2008 @12:12AM (#23634719)
        The 16 Tesla field used to levitate that frog is towards the upper end of the field strength that can be safely tolerated for any duration by most organisms. A static magnetic field of 20T or more can interfere with enzymatic processes, and above 25T can interfere with nerve conduction. Pulsed magnetic fields can be considerably more dangerous at a given field strength, because they can induce eddy currents in the body which can cause cardiac arrhythmias, but you're still looking at around the 10T range unless your heart is particularly vulnerable.

        In contrast, the 10^11T field of a magnetar would tear you to pieces even several thousand km away, and then tear those pieces into smaller, grotesquely elongated pieces, as the field strength is enough to distort the geometries of atomic orbitals. What would of course actually kill you on your way to a magnetar are the X-rays and gamma rays the thing throws out, and these forms of radiation should be considered among the effects of a cosmically strong magnetic field. However, assuming you could survive those, the magnetic field itself would still instantly kill you. A particular problem is that your body is made up of many different kinds of atoms and molecules, which will be affected by the intense field differently depending on whether they are ions, have a dipole moment, etc., so that you will in a literal sense be disintegrated.

        • Pulsed magnetic fields ...

          a.k.a. electromagnetic radiation. A "pulsed magnetic field" can be anything from RF to microwaves to visible light to gamma rays.

          • Yeah, I was trying to specifically refer to devices like these [lanl.gov] that deliver high fields that last a matter of microseconds, but you and Maxwell are of course correct about the oscillating field associated with EM radiation.
        • Isn't there some way to block a magnetic field (with a material that won't itself become magnetized)?
      • by Genda ( 560240 )

        Actually field strength is an inverse function of distance like any of the other forces in the universe.

        If you were to get close to such an intense magnetic field... say 10,000 kilometers... the force would begin to pull the iron out of your hemoglobin right through your tissue. Get a bit closer, say 100 kilomoters... the field would be so intense that the electron clouds surrounding your atoms would be smeared over a considerable distance, in other words your constituent atomic particles would begin to

        • by Ihlosi ( 895663 )
          If you were to get close to such an intense magnetic field... say 10,000 kilometers... the force would begin to pull the iron out of your hemoglobin right through your tissue.

          Bzzt. Sorry, single atoms of iron, or compounds containing iron, usually do not exhibit ferromanetism. The much, much weaker effects of dia- and paramagnetism apply here.
    • by xPsi ( 851544 ) *

      million billion times stronger than the magnetic field of the Earth
      In cgs units, that's about 0.5 PG (petagauss) or, in SI, 50 GT (gigatesla). Definitely watch your credit cards around that one.
    • I don't think I'll be sending my resume.
  • not a ring (Score:4, Interesting)

    by datapharmer ( 1099455 ) on Monday June 02, 2008 @06:36PM (#23632435) Homepage
    What ring? It just looks out of focus to me.
    • Re:not a ring (Score:5, Informative)

      by Pollardito ( 781263 ) on Monday June 02, 2008 @09:08PM (#23633629)
      the ring is the empty looking space to the right of the star. the picture is kind of misleading because it seems like they're talking about a ring around that star, but the ring is instead circling an invisible object that's near it: "The magnetar itself is not visible in this image, as it has not been detected at infrared wavelengths (it has been seen in X-ray light)."
      • by khallow ( 566160 )
        It could be a jet coming from the magnetar and running into nearby gas. If the axis of rotation for the star is almost in line with us and the jet shoots somewhere off center, then that could explain the well off-center ring. Another thing is that it appears to me that there's actually a pair of rings, the one to the right and one which appears to be around the bright star in the center. That might indicate a pair of jets in more or less opposite directions.
  • by StefanJ ( 88986 ) on Monday June 02, 2008 @06:36PM (#23632437) Homepage Journal
    . . . whoever the hell ran weapon tests on that star and its planets.

    Hail Whoever!
  • why oh why (Score:5, Funny)

    by thermian ( 1267986 ) on Monday June 02, 2008 @06:40PM (#23632477)
    As soon as I read the summary I immediately thought 'Intergalactic Goatse'.

    I need less internets.
    • by mangu ( 126918 )

      I immediately thought 'Intergalactic Goatse'

      Just wait for the the "Uranus ring" jokes!
  • Ringworld? (Score:5, Funny)

    by spineboy ( 22918 ) on Monday June 02, 2008 @06:52PM (#23632563) Journal
    Cool!, now we just need a General Products hull # 4 sufficient for colonization. Except that the damn star is dead.
    • by rubycodez ( 864176 ) on Monday June 02, 2008 @07:45PM (#23633035)
      Dear Partners and VARS,

      The following is privileged information as described by your General Products N.D.A. and is not to be transmitted to customers or third parties.

      while our General Products Hulls including the #4 provide protection against most hazards encountered in interstellar travel, gravitational tides with a steep gradient such as those found in the vicinity of neutron stars including magnetars can in fact cause bodily harm to occupants while not damaging or voiding warranty on the hull, e.g. rendering of tissues/organs to pulp or plasma.

      Also, although not widely advertised, antimatter may destroy a G.P. hull completely, and void the warranty, service agreements and maintenance contracts.

      We are not putting out any bulletins to customers or potential clients at this time, and partners only are to communicate any issues or incidents to our Hindmost and Vice Hindmost Partner's Relationship Manager, but going forward G.P. will deal with any occurrences on a case by base basis.

      Yours Very Truly,

      Messus, HTO, General Products
      • by Agripa ( 139780 )
        Wait, I did not know that antimatter could destroy a General Products hull.
        • by jd ( 1658 )
          What amazed me was not that antimatter could destroy a GP hull, but that the main character who happened to be in said hull at the time was still more-or-less intact afterwards (as opposed to becoming a thin veneer over the cosmic background radiation).
          • by Agripa ( 139780 )
            It was still a vacuum around the planet and star so not much antimatter was involved. Pelton and Shaeffer were in space suits with their helmets located in close proximity at Shaeffer's insistence. His pilot training included being exceedingly cautious around unexplained anomalies. Because the hull disintegrated as one piece, there were no bulkheads to get thrown into and no flying debris. The radiation hazard could be handled by the extension bubble until they moved out of range.
        • by MrMr ( 219533 )
          I envy you; You still have a known-space story to read (Flatlander).
          Oh wait, or perhaps I don't, because you suffer from amnesia...
      • We will pay off all warranties and contracts effective of the date of this message, as we are leaving the galaxy. Please forward any correspondence to Messus@earth.gov.

          Thank you for you business, and we look forward to doing business with you again in the future.


      • Messus, HTO, General Products

        Nessus. Not Messus.

  • by Daimanta ( 1140543 ) on Monday June 02, 2008 @06:54PM (#23632583) Journal
    I read it as "Ghosttly Ring found circling Death Star". I got strange thoughts in the 3 seconds in the 3 seconds after I read that sentence.
  • Luck (Score:3, Funny)

    by AikonMGB ( 1013995 ) on Monday June 02, 2008 @06:59PM (#23632615) Homepage

    Quick, assemble the luckiest people our civilization has to offer!

  • What I want to know is whether a ring in that kind of magnetic field has a strong polarity. And I hope nobody tries sending out metal-based probes to find out.
    • if it was it would either get sucked in instantly or fly way the hell far away depending on polarity. I suppose gravity could equalize with magnetism at a certain distance and hold the ring there with opposing poliarity to the star in theory but if I remember correctly, the poles of the magnetar are crazy and move around all over so it would push and pull on it until it either got sucked in or pushed too far away. It must be nuetral.
  • What, they don't expect people to understand "quadrillion"?
    • by Dunbal ( 464142 )
      What, they don't expect people to understand "quadrillion"?

      10^12 is far too big for the average scientist to understand - oh wait.
    • I "understand" that a quadrillion is 10^15, but it's not a number on a scale I typically work with. On the other hand, I'm very used to dealing with the quantities "billion" and "million" -- we encounter and interact with such quantities every day when using technology. So I can actually start to imagine what a "million billion" is by comparing it with quantities I have already internalized. "Quadrillion" is more abstract. The only thing that immediately comes to mind is "really damn large number."

      I actua

    • It's Roland we're talking about, he only understands numbers if you add the words "clicks" or "visitors".
  • Ah crap. I read the article and it's just some cosmological events.. I was kind of hoping it would be a construct like HALO or ringworld.. =) Ah well..
    • by jd ( 1658 )
      The title does, in fact, refer to movie-edition Ming The Merciless' ring, which was found encompassing a micro-miniaturized Hollywood celebrity.
  • by fahrbot-bot ( 874524 ) on Monday June 02, 2008 @08:25PM (#23633365)
    So far, about a dozen magnetars have been found.

    Most are in the constellation "Refrigetar".

  • Beware! I live!
  • Could be good, but how do we get there to collect the eezo?
  • I fell in to a burning ring of fire
    I went down,down,down
    and the flames went higher.
    And it burns,burns,burns
    the ring of fire
    the ring of fire.

    With thanks to Johnny!
  • Somehow it irritates me when articles like this start talking baby language; surely, if a person is clever enough to be interested in science, they are able to understand or quickly learn about a notation like "10^15"?
  • Now we are certain the galactic core [wikipedia.org] is exploding...

Honesty is for the most part less profitable than dishonesty. -- Plato