Astronomers have uncovered a star that appears on course to become one of the strongest magnets in the universe.
HD 45166 is 3,000 light years away and was spotted with multiple telescopes dotted all over the Earth, not that it’s particularly inconspicuous.
Rich in helium, this interstellar behemoth is a few times bigger than our sun.
But experts are more interested in what awaits it after death, when they believe it will become a magnetar.
These super-dense dead stars boast ultra-strong magnetic fields – the most powerful in existence.
While they are found all over our galaxy, astronomers are unsure how they form and hope that finding a likely future candidate will shed more light on their origins.
Based on the data collected from various telescopes, HD 45166 has a magnetic field of 43,000 gauss, which makes it the most magnetic massive star ever found.
The image at the top of this article, an artist’s impression of the star, shows it being enveloped by intense winds of particles that are trapped by its magnetic field.
HD 45166 is a binary system and in the background on the left is its companion, a normal blue star in its orbit.
Star’s power is immense – and there’s much more to come
Lead author, Tomer Shenar of the University of Amsterdam, said the “exciting” discovery was the first of its kind.
Co-author Pablo Marchant said its entire surface “is as magnetic as the strongest human-made magnets”.
And yet magnetars are at least a billion times stronger still.
Should HD 45166 indeed be on course to become one, death will see it collapse under its own gravity and become an extremely compact neutron star with a magnetic field of around 100 trillion gauss.
Put it this way: if a magnetar appeared around the same distance as the moon, it would be strong enough to wipe the data from every credit card on Earth.
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At the moment, there are only 31 known magnetars in the universe, though astronomers suspect there are millions of inactive ones waiting to be found.
Professor Shenar said HD 45166’s potential had “been hiding in plain sight all along”.
The findings have been published in the journal Science.