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Rare type of zombie star acting up, spinning like crazy

Space-borne NASA telescopes are picking up tremendous flares of x-rays and gamma rays from a rapidly spinning neutron star, a type of stellar remnant, 30,000 light-years away. The so-called magnetar, a hyper dense collapsed star—imagine the sun compressed to the width of Lake Tahoe—boasting a tremendous magnetic field, completes a rotation every 2.07 seconds, making it the fastest spinner of its kind. (According to McGill University's magnetar catalogue, only 13 have been confirmed.)

Dubbed SGR J1550-5418, the object lies in a small southern constellation called Norma. The designation SGR reflects the object's classification as a soft gamma repeater, an even rarer category of magnetar that fires off irregular bursts of x-rays and gamma rays. Late last month, the gamma-ray repeater earned its title by flaring up with intense bursts of radiation, the x-ray component of which was captured on video by NASA's Swift satellite (below).

"At times, this remarkable object has erupted with more than a hundred flares in as little as 20 minutes," Loredana Vetere, a research associate at Pennsylvania State University who works on the Swift project, said in a statement. "The most intense flares emitted more total energy than the sun does in 20 years."

 

Image credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab; Video credit: NASA/Swift/Jules Halpern (Columbia Univ.)

 

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