Astronomers have discovered strange new magnetic stars

The artist’s impression of the unusually magnetic star HD 45166, which shows how the wind of particles blown from the star is captured by the magnetic field Image source: ESO/L Calcada

Studying a new type of star could be the way to solve the mystery of the universe. After a century of research, astronomers have finally figured out why a star named HD 45166 looks so strange, which could be the key to understanding where the strange star known as a magnetar comes from.

Located in a binary star system about 3,000 light-years away, HD 45166 is an object known as Wolf Rayet’s star, also known as a helium star, because it blows away the outer layer of hydrogen and exposes the underlying helium. But it’s never like any other Wolf Rayet star we’ve seen. Tomer Shenar of the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands said: “For about 100 years, this star has been thought to be strange. “It doesn’t make any sense, but it does contradict theory, so it’s worth exploring more.”

Shenar and colleagues made a series of new observations of the star, delving into its spectrum to understand how it works. The results showed that the star had a strong magnetic field, stronger than any other star that had been measured.

The outflow of material that makes HD 45166 look so strange may be trapped in its magnetic field and not flow like the regular Wolf-Rayet star. Shenar said: “Most of the material you see up close is trapped in the arc between the poles and collides in the middle. “You see this thick ball of gas, and sometimes you see real stars through it.”

These strong magnetic fields mean that when the star collapses on its own in millions of years, it is likely to become a magnetar. Magnetars are the strongest magnetic neutron stars in the universe. About 10 percent of neutron stars are magnetars, but exactly how they form has been a mystery for decades. If stars like HD45166 end up being magnetars, the mystery is finally solved.

The next step for Shenar’s team is to understand the nature of the star and explore its ultimate fate by continuing to observe the binary system for several years. They also plan to look for more such magnetized helium stars, as calculations suggest that there should be hundreds of such stars in galaxies. If more stars at different stages of evolution are found, researchers may be able to determine how magnetars form. (Source: China Science News Guo Yueying)

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