Two NASA telescopes observe a magnetar loses material into space

Astronomers using NASA’s two space telescopes, NICER (Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer) and NuSTAR (Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array), have observed a fast radio burst released from a magnetar called SGR 1935+2154 in October 2022.

An artist's illustration shows a magnetar losing material into space
An artist’s illustration shows a magnetar losing material into space. The magnetic field lines of the magnetar are shown in green. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

As a result of a fast radio burst, the magnetar loses material into space, which slows down the rotation of the magnetar.

A fast radio burst is an explosion of radio waves that last only for a fraction of a second but can release about as much energy as the sun does in a year. So it is a violent transient phenomenon, like a supernova explosion.

When a supermassive star of mass greater than about eight solar masses runs out of its nuclear fuel at the end of its life and explodes as a supernova, the dead collapse star eventually becomes a neutron star. If a neutron star has a very high magnetic field, then it’s called a magnetar.

The magnetar SGR 1935+2154, which is located about 30,000 light-years away in our galaxy, is estimated to be about 12 miles (20 kilometers) across. It is so dense that a teaspoon of its material would weigh about a billion tons on Earth.

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Such high density creates strong gravity, which makes the surface of the magnetar a volatile place, and the magnetar releases its material through high-energy events like X-rays, gamma rays, or first radio bursts.

NASA’s two telescopes were able to observe the magnetar SGR 1935+2154 for hours, catching a glimpse of what happened on its surface and in its immediate surroundings both before and after the fast radio burst.

Two NASA telescopes, NICER (Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer) and NuSTAR (Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array), have been observing the cosmos from the International Space Station and from low Earth orbit, respectively. 

The new finding was published in the scientific journal “Nature” on February 14, 2024.

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Ashim

Ashim Chandra Sarkar founded Space & Telescope in 2022. He holds a M.Sc. in physics and has five years of research experience in optical astronomy. His passion for astronomy inspired him to open this website. He is responsible for the editorial vision of spaceandtelescope.com.

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