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The Question

(Submitted September 30, 1998)

I'm 15, but I can understand the answer in scientific terms.

How does a neutron star evolve to be a magnetar? Is it from the gravity of the matters in the neutron star? Does a magnetar form from a supernova, or before the star explodes?

The Answer

Hello,

This is an excellent question, and one which is at the frontier of current research. First of all, nobody knows much about magnetars since there existence was only recently suggested and the observational evidence for them is even newer. As far as I know the most likely scenario for their formation is as the remnant from a supernova. This is the ultimate origin of all neutron stars, and magnetars may be just the neutron stars which are formed with the strongest magnetic fields. An interesting observational fact is that all known magnetars appear to be rotating quite slowly by neutron star standards, about once every 8 seconds or so. This can be understood if they are created with a much more rapid rotation rate, say once every few milliseconds, because their strong magnetic fields are expected to cause them to spin down very rapidly by magnetic dipole radiation.

I don't know if there are other scenarios for magnetar formation which are equally likely.

I hope this helps,

Tim Kallman for Ask an Astrophysicist


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