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Magnetic star awakens after sleeping for 10 years

Magnetic star awakens after sleeping for 10 years

This star has researchers scratching their heads.

A mysterious star known as a "magnetar" has been baffling researchers for years after spending a decade dormant before springing back to life.

The magnetar is called XTE J1810-197, and was discovered back in 2003 thanks to the way it was flinging out loads of radio waves.

In 2008, though, something caused those waves to just completely stop, making the star far harder to detect and baffling observers.

Artist’s impression of a magnetar.
© Carl Knox, OzGrav/Swinburne University of Technology

Then, a decade later in 2018, it started up again, without any obvious explanation, causing a real question mark to linger over it.

After a few years of research, papers have now been published analysing the magnetar, and they've found some pretty crazy results.

For one thing, it looks like its low-frequency electromagnetic waves are twisting and turning in ways that we've never before observed, changing polarities and messing everything up.

On top of that, it would seem that the whole star is actually wobbling around in space thanks to the massive forces it's letting out.

Marcus Lower is an astrophysicist at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Australia's national science organisation, and was lead author on one of the papers looking into XTE J1810-197, focusing on its electromagnetic emissions.

He said in a statement: "Unlike the radio signals we've seen from other magnetars, this one is emitting enormous amounts of rapidly changing circular polarization. We had never seen anything like this before."

Lead author on the other paper, Gregory Desvignes from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy (MPIfR) in Germany, expressed similar levels of awe in that paper's press release, saying: "We expected to see some variations in the polarization of this magnetar's emission, as we knew this from other magnetars, but we did not expect that these variations are so systematic, following exactly the behavior that would be caused by the wobbling of the star."

Magnetars are already pretty fascinating even before these new twists - they're young neutron stars, which are the result of the supernova deaths of massive stars, leaving behind hugely dense cores.

Artist’s impression of a magnetar with magnetic field and powerful jets.

After that supernova, a new neutron star briefly becomes the most magnetic thing in the known universe, a magnetar, impossibly strong in their power and literally a quadrillion times more magnetic than Earth.

This makes their behaviour incredibly interesting to study, so this particular star would be of interest regardless of its disappearing act. The fact that it seems to be flaring up and then backing right off makes it a natural one for scientists to get deep into.

Featured Image Credit: Carl Knox, OzGrav/Swinburne University of Technology/ Jaris Ho/ Getty