Einstein Science Reporting for Kids
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12-Aug-2013

Contact: Sarah Eve Roberts
roberts@strw.leidenuniv.nl
31-71-527-8419
Leiden University

It's a small world after all

Space Scoop: Astronomy News for Kids



An artist's impression of a magnetar undergoing a random eruption called a "starquake," which include bursts of powerful X-rays.
Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Huntingdon Inst. for X-ray Astronomy/G.Garmire, Optical: ESO/VLT

Regular Space Scoopers might remember a story from a few months ago about an "oddity among oddities". The Space Scoop called A Flare For the Dramatic, told the story of a magnetar called SGR 0418. Magnetars are weird, tiny, ultra-dense stars that appear dark to our eyes. They don't sound too extreme, but they are notoriously powerful magnets. In fact they are billions of times stronger than the magnets you have on your fridge at home and much more powerful than any magnet we can make on Earth. They are strong enough to rip the very building blocks of the world apart. Plus, these stars undergo random eruptions called "starquakes", which include bursts of powerful X-rays.

But SGR 0418 didn't seem to fit the mould. At first it seemed to be a much weaker magnet than any other star of its kind. Like other magnetars, it underwent regular, world-tumbling starquakes that produced dramatic X-ray flares.

But what made this magnetar so mystifying was that no-one understood how such a weak magnet could cause such powerful flares! Well, now astronomers from the European Space Agency have solved the mystery! It turns out that this sneaky magnetar was concealing one of the strongest magnets in the entire Universe, hiding its true power. Even though this magnetar looks ordinary, its secret superhero identity is just below the surface!

Cool Fact: Even from a distance of over 900 kilometres from a magnetar, the strength of the star's magnet is so great that it could literally rip you apart!

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This Space Scoop is based on a Press Release from ESA.