The Collision of Stars Creates Some of the Strongest Magnets in the Universe

A team of astrophysicists used simulation software to show how some neutron stars become the strongest magnets in the universe.
Donna Fuscaldo

Ever wonder how some neutron stars become some of the strongest magnets in outer space?

Well a team of scientists from Heidelberg University, the Max Planck Society, the Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies, and the University of Oxford, did and think they have the answer. 


Magnetars formed by two stars colliding 

In a report published in journal Nature, the team of astrophysicists argued these powerful magnetars are formed by the merger of two stars.

Relying on large computer simulations, the scientists showed that if the merged star explodes in supernovae, a magnetar could be produced. While massive stars don't have an envelope around them like the sun that generates magnetic fields, the scientists were still able to "observe a strong, large-scale magnetic field at the surface of about ten percent of them," said Dr. Fabian Schneider from the Centre for Astronomy of Heidelberg University, who is the first author of the study in Nature in a press release describing the work.  

In the past scientists lacked the tools to confirm their theories 

While scientists have long said magnetic fields are the result of two stars colliding, they weren't able to test the theory because they lacked the computational tools that are now available. Researchers this time were able to use the AREPO code, which is a simulation code that runs on computer clusters at the Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies to determine the properties of Tau Scorpii, a magnetic star that is 500 light-years away from Earth. 

The scientists believe the star obtained its strong magnetic field during the merger process. They are now able to demonstrate that turbulence during the merger of two stars can create the magnetic field. 

Based on the computer simulations, the team of astrophysicists concluded that the magnetic field generated is enough to explain these super-strong magnetic fields found in magnetars.  

"Magnetars are thought to have the strongest magnetic fields in the Universe - up to one hundred million times stronger than the strongest magnetic field ever produced by humans," said Friedrich Röpke from HITS in the same press release.

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