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Beyond Earthly Skies

Smashing onto a Magnetar

26 Oct 2013, 10:00 UTC
Smashing onto a Magnetar
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Neutron stars are very compact objects that are formed from the gravitational collapse of massive stars. A typical neutron star packs as much mass as half-million Earths within a diameter of only ~20 km. Magnetars form a rare group of neutron stars that have extremely powerful magnetic fields. Occasionally, magnetars exhibit ‘glitches’ that are observed as sudden spin-ups of these compact objects. Glitches are believed to be caused by the sudden transfer of angular momentum from the faster rotating superfluid interior to the slower rotating solid outer crust of a magnetar.Figure 1: Artist’s impression of a neutron star shown to scale with Manhattan Island. Credit: NASA.In the May 30 issue of the journal Nature, R. F. Archibald et al. (2013) report the discovery of an ‘anti-glitch’ (i.e. a sudden spin-down) of the magnetar 1E 2259+586. This unexpected sudden spin-down is contrary to the spin-ups caused by glitches. Ordinarily, the magnetar has a spin period of 7 seconds, but the anti-glitch slowed its spin by 2 millionths of a second. In another paper by Huang and Geng (2013), the authors suggest that the sudden spin-down of 1E 2259+586 is caused by the collision of a solid object with the magnetar. The ...

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