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Astronomers Discover Unusual, Highly Magnetic Star

An artist’s impression of HD 45166, an unusually magnetic star, showing how intense winds of particles blowing away from the star are trapped by the magnetic field

ESO/L. Calcada

A groundbreaking discovery has been made by astronomers in the form of an unusual star with highly magnetic properties. After extensive research, the team of astronomers has finally unlocked the mystery surrounding the peculiar appearance of HD 45166, a star that could provide valuable insights into the origin of magnetars.

HD 45166 is situated in a binary system approximately 3000 light years away and is classified as a Wolf-Rayet star, also known as a helium star due to its stripped layers of hydrogen that reveal its underlying helium core. However, HD 45166 stands out as distinct from other known Wolf-Rayet stars. According to Tomer Shenar from the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, “This star has perplexed scientists for about a century, as it defied conventional theories. It demanded closer scrutiny.”

The team led by Shenar conducted a series of thorough observations of HD 45166, including an analysis of its light spectrum, to gain a deeper understanding of its characteristics. They made a remarkable discovery: the star possesses an extraordinarily powerful magnetic field, surpassing that of any star of similar size previously studied.

Contrary to the typical outflows seen in Wolf-Rayet stars, the peculiar appearance of HD 45166 is most likely due to its magnetic field trapping material rather than the material flowing away. Shenar explains, “At close range, one would observe mostly material confined in arcs connecting the poles of the star, colliding at the center. This would appear as a dense gas ball, occasionally revealing glimpses of the actual star.”

The presence of such strong magnetic fields suggests that HD 45166 will eventually collapse and transform into a magnetar, a type of neutron star known for having the most intense magnetic fields in the universe. While magnetars make up around 10% of all neutron stars, the process by which they are formed has been a mystery for several decades. If stars similar to HD 45166 ultimately evolve into magnetars, this enigma could finally be solved.

The research team plans to take their investigation a step further. By continuing to observe the binary system over the next few years, they aim to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the star’s properties and its likely future. Additionally, they intend to search for more magnetized helium stars, as their calculations indicate that hundreds of these stars may exist in our galaxy. By studying stars at various stages of stellar evolution, they hope to shed light on the true formation of magnetars.


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