Sciency Words: Magnetar

Today’s post is part of a special series here on Planet Pailly called Sciency Words. Each week, we take a closer look at an interesting science or science-related term to help us expand our scientific vocabularies together. Today’s term is:

MAGNETAR

Space has a lot of cool ways to kill you. This one’s especially nifty! Magnetars are neutron stars with intensely powerful magnetic fields. Like, absurdly powerful magnetic fields.

Fly your spaceship near a magentar, and that overpowered magnetic field will start pulling the electrons off your atoms. This will kill you. It’ll destroy your spaceship too. Without those electrons, chemical bonds don’t work. Your molecules will unravel, and you and your ship will just disintegrate.

Even from a distance, magnetars are a menace. In 2004, a strong burst of gamma radiation washed over Earth, compressing our planet’s magnetic field and partially ionizing our atmosphere. That gamma radiation came from a magnetar on the other side of the galaxy.

If a magnetar could do that to us from so far away, just think what it must have done to any alien civilizations that happened to live closer. I can’t help but imagine there’s a vast dead zone on the other side of the galaxy, with magnetar SGR 1806-20 right in the middle.

The good news is that magnetars don’t last long. Their magnetic fields decay rapidly, so these raging monsters turn into regular neutron stars within a few thousand years. Also, while their outbursts of gamma rays and X-rays can affect our planet, there aren’t any magnetars close enough to Earth to really threaten us.

Oh wait. Yes there are. Sort of.

10 Responses to Sciency Words: Magnetar

  1. Wow. I wonder how close it’d have to be for an extinction level, or maybe just civilization crashing level event. Makes you wonder if something like this might have been responsible for one or more of the past mass extinction events.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Scott Levine says:

    Wow, that really scary, but think of all the exciting science fair projects you could do before you died! A few thousand years, though. On the timescale of space, that’s hardly a blink! Wow.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve never heard of magnetars before – fascinating stuff. Love the illustration!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. elegancesicy says:

    Fantastic, another fear to add to the list! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  5. If a magnetar has zipped past the solar system on the outskirts of our galaxy I guess we’re lucky but it’s all so sad. We really are alone, further away from strange new lifeforms living on new civilizations.

    Liked by 1 person

    • J.S. Pailly says:

      It is sad, thinking of the devastation magnetars cause. I’m not ready to give up hope of finding alien civilizations just yet. Magnetars still seem to be pretty rare, so there are still plenty of worlds out there they haven’t had the chance to destroy yet.

      Like

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