Satellite X-ray observations reveal neutron star with donut-shaped magnetic field and axial wobble

European Science Foundation

Some neutron stars, known as magnetars, possess powerful magnetic fields, which are stronger than any other known magnetism in the Universe. These intense magnetic fields somehow produce high-energy x-ray pulses, but this process is not well understood. We observed 4U 0142+61 using the Suzaku x-ray astronomy satellite to find out whether the magnetar’s emissions change over time. The magnetar had previously been measured to spin at a rate of one revolution in about 8 seconds and to produce x-ray pulses of the same period, but Makishima and his co-workers noticed slow fluctuations in the arrival times of the x-ray pulses. The findings suggest that the magnetar is deformed from a perfect sphere due to an extremely strong, tightly wound toroidal magnetic field buried deep in the star’s core.

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