Published: 31st December 2021
What The FAQ: What's a magnetar and how did it unleash energy equal to what the Sun creates in 1,00,000 years
Giant eruptions were found in a galaxy far, far away in the year 2020. It is only a recent study that has revealed what the eruptions meant
On April 15, 2020, when we were just starting to realise the havoc COVID-19 was going to wreck on mankind, in space, 13 million lightyears away, a magnetar exploded. And now, scientists are starting to realise what this explosion resulted in. For starters, it unleashed an energy equivalent to that created by the Sun in 1,00,000 years.
Wait, but what is a magnetar and why should we care about something that has happened far, far away. Here are the answers to all your questions.
First up, what is a magnetar?
For that, first, you'll have to understand what a neutron star is — basically it is a massive star that has collapsed. So, a magnetar is a rare compact type neutron star that has a magnetic field that's very powerful. To give you an idea, the magnetic field is a trillion times greater than that of our planet. We know only 30 of them and thus, our knowledge about them is limited because our technologies are not advanced enough yet. All that is known about them is they undergo violent eruptions that last for barely a second.
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So what happened on April 15, 2020?
On a magnetar named GRB2001415, found in the Sculptor group of galaxies (NGC 253), violent eruptions happened which led to scientists terming it, "A true cosmic monster." The eruption lasted for less than a tenth of a second and within that time frame, the magnetar managed to expend a tremendous amount of energy.
If it happened on April 15, 2020, why are we talking about it now?
For a long time, scientists have pondered about whether magnetars have high-frequency oscillations. At last, six researchers from the University of Valencia, Spain and a few other Spanish collaborators, published a study in Nature, a journal, recently about their observations of the magnetar's brightness.
How did the researchers study it?
The Atmosphere Space Interactions Monitor (ASIM) instrument, currently on the International Space Station (ISS), detected the eruptions and at the University of Valencia's Image Processing Laboratory (IPL), an Artificial Intelligence (AI) system was built. So the data provided by ASIIM along with complex data analysis, the phenomena was studied.
What were the conclusions arrived at?
Multiple pulses were revealed by the observations, all of which lasted for tens of microseconds. This is much faster than any extreme astrophysical transients. Just like earthquakes on Earth, starquakes happen on magnetar which is produced on their crust. This is due to high instability prevailing in their magnetospheres. Due to this instability, Alfven waves are produced, which are also found on the Sun. It is these waves that release massive energies that are seen as giant flares. This has proved to the researchers that the volume of the eruption was comparable to the volume of the neutron star itself. All of this has gone a long wave in helping mankind understand a little more about the mysteries of space.