Rare magnetar discovered in the vicinity of a supernova remnant

December 12, 2013
Image of the supernova remnant Kesteven 79 and the newly discovered magnetar, 3XMM J185246.6+003317, in X-rays obtained with the XMM-Newton telescope. Since X-rays are invisible to the human eye, the brightness of the gas in X-rays is represented by the colors blue, red and yellow. The red circle and the green cross indicate the location of the transient magnetar and the anti-magnetar, respectively. The transient magnetar was not present in the 2007 image (left), but appears in the 2008 image (right). Credit: Zhou et al. 2014

A team of astronomers led by the PhD student Ms. Ping Zhou from the University of Nanjing in China discovered a new transient magnetar. This magnetar, the ninth of its class, was identified during a COSPAR Capacity Building Workshop for young researchers in developing countries. It is likely that the magnetar, an ultra-magnetic neutron star, was part of a binary star system together with an anti-magnetar. The results of this research will be published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

When a heavy star comes to the end of its life in a a neutron star or a black hole is formed. A transient magnetar is a neutron star with an ultra-strong magnetic field that suddenly starts shining and then fades away slowly. Only 8 such magnetars were known before Ms. Zhou's discovery.

During the COSPAR training workshop Zhou studied the nearby supernova remnant SNR Kesteven 79. Using X-ray images from ESA's X-ray telescope XMM-Newton from 2008 and 2009 she discovered a bright source south of the supernova remnant that was not visible in previous observations made from 2001 to 2007. Ping Zhou: "Discovering a new object, especially such a peculiar one, was the best thing that happened in my career. Since primary school I had the dream of discovering a new star."

The newly discovered magnetar 3XMM J186536.6+003317 pulses with X-rays every 11.56 seconds and, therefore, has the longest rotation period among all known transient magnetars. The distance to the magnetar indicates that there is a likely connection between this object, the supernova remnant and the anti-magnetar that is located at the center of supernova remnant. It is possible that both stars were members of a binary system that was disrupted during the supernova explosion.

COSPAR is the international Committee on Space Research, and the COSPAR Capacity Building Workshops have been developed specifically for young researchers in developing countries. Co-author Mariano Mendez from the University of Groningen in The Netherlands, chair of COSPAR's Panel on Capacity Building, supervised the workshop that took place in China in September 2013. Mariano Mendez: "All data and software that is used to train research skills are freely available, but students have to learn how to use them. In this way we help them with their first, often most difficult steps. Zhou's fantastic discovery shows that these workshops meet our goals!"

Explore further: Mysterious magnetar boasts one of strongest magnetic fields in Universe

More information: "Discovery of the transient magnetar 3XMM J185246.6+003317 near the supernova remnant Kesteven 79 with XMM-Newton," Ping Zhou, Yang Chen, Xiang-Dong Li, Samar Safi-Harb, Mariano Mendez, Yukikatsu Terada, Wei Sun, Ming-Yu Ge, accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, arxiv.org/abs/1310.7705

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1 / 5 (1) Dec 13, 2013
What is an anti-magnetar? Is it a neutron star without the strong magnetic field? It kind of sounds like a monopole neutron star, but if that was the case it would have made much bigger headlines.
1 / 5 (1) Dec 13, 2013
The anti-glitch issue[edit]

Often magnetars speed up (and more rarely slow down) and many of the reasons for this behaviour have not been fully explained by astrophysics.[21]
Astronomers have theorized that glitches occur when fluid inside the star rotates faster than the crust and suddenly transfers some extra momentum during a disturbance. They think the spectacular outbursts of x-rays occur in the 20 to 30 per cent of glitches where the disturbance is violent enough to crack the crust, Kaspi said.
Because the strange 2012 outburst was accompanied by a slowdown, Kaspi is calling it an anti-glitch.[22]
That kind of behaviour is "not at all what you expect if that whole picture of glitches in these stars is correct. It shouldn't happen that way," Kaspi added. "It's hard to imagine how fluid interior is slower than crust."
Kaspi has since contacted theorists who have helped her come up with a possible explanation — that pockets of fluid rotating slower than the crust could be responsible.[23]

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