This might be the fastest magnetar in the whole galaxy

An image shows a newly discovered magnetar that spins unbelievably quickly through the Milky Way.
(Image: © X-ray: NASA/CXC/Univ. of West Virginia/H. Blumer; Infrared (Spitzer and Wise): NASA/JPL-CalTech/Spitzer)

A rapidly twirling, ultramagnetic, 500-year-old baby neutron star has been spotted zipping at never-before-seen speeds through the Milky Way.

The flickering X-rays and radio waves of this giant baby — adorably named J1818.0-1607 — would likely have first appeared in the sky when Nicolaus Copernicus, the Polish scientist who proposed that the sun (and not Earth) was the center of the universe, first looked up at the heavens.

If Copernicus had orbital X-ray telescopes or powerful radio receivers, he would have witnessed the birth of a magnetar: a super-rare, violent species of neutron star with extreme, twisted-up magnetic fields. A mere 500 years later (assuming astronomers got its age right), this screaming infant  is still spinning faster than any known magnetars, at one revolution every 1.4 seconds. It also may be moving faster than any previously discovered neutron star, of any variety.

Like all neutron stars, J1818.0-1607 would have emerged after the explosive death of a large star — known as a supernova — as the crushed remnant of its core. Neutron stars are tiny in astrophysical terms, no wider than Madison, Wisconsin. But as the densest known objects in the universe other than black holes — full of matter crushed to the point of atoms losing their structural integrity and mushing together to resemble the nucleus of a single giant atom— neutron stars can be as massive as fullsize stars.

Only a minuscule fraction of neutron stars are magnetars. But that isn’t the only unusual thing about J1818.0-1607. It’s also a pulsar, a type of ultrafast, cosmic lighthouse that dims  and brightens with each rotation.

“Only five magnetars including this one have been recorded to also act like pulsars, constituting less than 0.2% of the known neutron star population,” researchers involved in the study said in a NASA statement.

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