back to article Boffins baffled by 'magnetar': Ought to be black hole, but isn't

Applecarts are pinwheeling through the air in the world's astronomy departments today as top boffins have revealed that stars lying within a certain range of ginormity do not, as had been supposed, turn into black holes. Rather, it seems, they instead become an exceptionally rare and puzzling space thing known to the …


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  1. Thomas 18
    IT Angle


    Only evil suns turn into black holes

  2. Anonymous Coward
    IT Angle

    Is it wrong?

    If the concept of a ginormous magnet the size of Saturn's orbit excites me?

    IT, because unless someone is planning on making the universe's largest magnetic core memory array...

    1. Ben Holmes

      @AC 20:41

      "IT, because unless someone is planning on making the universe's largest magnetic core memory array..."

      No, no, you've got it all wrong. It's the Interstellar BOFH, and he's polishing off his solar system-spanning magnetic bulk eraser!

  3. Arkasha


    Saying that no stars 40x the size of our sun form black holes is a bit of a leap from this research. And you missed the bit where they hypothesized that the star may have been part of a binary system and lost up to 90% of its mass to the gravitational pull of the other star.

  4. Anonymous Coward

    Can't or Won't?

    "This therefore raises the thorny question of just how massive a star has to be to collapse to form a black hole if stars over 40 times as heavy as our Sun cannot manage this feat," says Ritchie's fellow cluster-prober Norbert Langer.

    Clearly this pseudo-boffin has mixed his metaphoric categories here. Just because this star HASN'T collapsed to a black hole doesn't necessarily mean it COULDN'T have done. It's obvious that a star with such a powerful magnetic field would not want to go gentle into that good night (the proof is left to the student as an exercise), whether it was or was not able.

    It's just this kind of short-sighted astro-anthropomorphism that we true cosmo-boffins must deride and abhor.

  5. Mr_Pitiful

    I know it said "Concept Picture" but....

    Wouldn't that look kinda cool in the night sky.

    "Even at a distance"

    if you could actually see it from Earth

  6. IR

    Hey, wait

    I've been locked inside your magnetar pit trap.

    1. spatulasnout

      Re: magnetar pit trap

      You, sir, have made my day. :D

  7. Chris 244

    Not just neutrons

    You might want to do a little background reading on neutron stars. Matter on the surface does not get crushed into neutrons, and forms a solid "crust". Underneath that is a multi-layered core, the exact composition of which is not fully understood, and almost certainly is composed of more than just neutrons.

  8. David Pollard

    Remember Hannes Alfvén?

    Hannes Alfvén had told us a four decades ago that electromagnetism plays a major part in the universe.

    For example, snatching a quote from Wikipedia, "Space is filled with a network of currents which transfer energy and momentum over large or very large distances. The currents often pinch to filamentary or surface currents. The latter are likely to give space, as also interstellar and intergalactic space, a cellular structure."

    It's odd that it has taken so long for the mainstream to begin to see what he had been saying. Maybe magnetohydrodynamics, for which he won a Nobel prize, isn't easy. Or maybe it was that he was a Swede who didn't accept Big Bang and was an electrical engineer to boot.

    1. Ru

      Re: Remember Hannes Alfvén?

      > Or maybe it was that he was a Swede who didn't accept Big Bang and was an electrical engineer to boot.

      Question for you: how do you tell a sudden, intuitive leap of brilliance explaining deep mysteries of the cosmos from a wild guess based on flimsy evidence?

      Did his theories make any predictions that could be verified by observation or experiment? I imagine that didn't happen, either because he was wrong or because it remains too difficult to verify any of his claims. This isn't politically motivated climate study you know; academics couldn't manage a proper conspiracy to save their lives. Lets not have a "They laughed at Columbus" moment here. No-one really cares about his nationality or non-mainstream cosmology enough to try and bury the truth of his work, even assuming it *is* true in the first place!

      Incidentally, if you have a peek at A Brief History of Time, you may note that Stephen Hawking has conceived a model of the universe which doesn't have a beginning or end of time. Don't see many people trying to hide his research due to that little bit of unorthodoxy, do you.

      1. David Pollard

        @ Ru - Re: Re: Remember ...

        > How do you tell a sudden, intuitive leap ... from a wild guess...?

        Preferably on the basis that empirical tests are or will become available.

        > Did [Alfvén's] theories make any predictions that could be verified by observation or experiment?

        As just one example, from NASA in 2007: "Alfvén waves [the existence of which he was the first to propose in 1942] were a long-time suspect in the coronal heating mystery, but till now their presence in the solar corona was only circumstantial. 'With help from the Hinode spacecraft, we now have irrefutable evidence of Alfven waves moving along coronal loops,'"

  9. John Fielder
    Jobs Horns

    An Apple Black Hole?

    maybe the black holes are made by Apple, look good but don't quite work properly.

  10. Neil Barnes Silver badge
    Thumb Up


    Now *there*'s a word with a certain range of ginormity!

    Kudus, Mr Page.

    1. lglethal Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      I dont know about you...

      ... but it almost makes me want to become an astronomer/astrophysicist just so i can declare myself to be one of the astrocognoscenti...

  11. Mr Young
    Thumb Up

    "outrageously powerful magnetic field"?

    I'd really like one of them! Are they expensive?

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    My goodness me!

    Can volumes of rarified matter (that is volumes relatively free from matter) be so, so, so well defined that their behaviour makes for matter behaviour?

    Astounding what?

    (or not as the case may be).

    The conundrum may be:

    if nothing is something then it sure ain't nothing

  13. F111F

    Boffin Count...

    3 Boffins, 2 boffinry, and 1 Dr. Henri Boffin...

    I'm still new to this, do you count boffins if they are the root of a larger word?

  14. DJV Silver badge

    But... any Cheela live on them?

    (obscure SF reference - go google it)

    1. John F***ing Stepp

      We had a discussion once.

      Nice fellow.

      He came in while we (horrible SF nerds that knew everything) were trying to re-invent the Universe; sat down and listened while Frank B. and I threw godawful puns* at each other then he smiled.

      We had amused him and that was a good thing.

      Next year he was dead.

      *Frank, you can't have a Big Bang; the damn Universe will fall.

  15. Andrew Tyler 1


    "If the Sun were located at the heart of this remarkable cluster, our night sky would be full of hundreds of stars as bright as the full Moon."

    Now *that* would be awesome. Why can't earth be there? No rings, only one moon... damn this planet is boring. When I grow up, I'm moving to Westerlund 1. I'll find me a planet with big rings like Saturn, a few dozen moons, and I'll buy a beach chair. Probably listen to a lot of Pink Floyd.

  16. Robert Forsyth

    How does a neutron star have a magnetic field?

    Non-charged particle spinning about.

    1. Chemist

      Re : How does a neutron star have a magnetic field

      As far as I'm aware a neutron has a magnetic moment, so although overall electrically neutral the basic constituents of the neutron (quarks/gluons ) are able to display their individual properties to some extent.

      1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge


        Let’s try this again, with less late-night grammatical horror. Somewhere, a pedant earned his wings because of the original post.

        Here’s the revised version:

        A Neutron Star is basically a big old lump of neutrons at its center, where the extreme mass has compacted the matter so much that the protons and electrons have combined.

        This "neutronium" is highly unstable, and tends to revert to normal matter if it works its way far enough from the core. There are also layers of material that on top of the neutronium that are not under so much gravitational stress as to convert into neutronium. The outer layers of the star probably look relatively normal by comparison.

        Neutron stars, being so massive, may also have an accretion disk (much like a black hole.) From where we are, it would be virtually impossible to tell if a given star had an accretion disk or not (the star being powerful enough to outshine the disk) but if it did then that matter spiralling into the star would light the bugger up like a big magnetic candle.

        In short: think of a neutron star as very close to a black hole. Unlike a black hole which is so dense as to have an event horizon, neutron stars are just the other side of that barrier. A lot of the weird things that happen near black holes happen near neutron stars. There is the exception that we can almost understand the physics of a neutron star because the entireties of the reactions are occurring on this side of the event horizon.

        There is also a theory that a sufficiently massive neutron star could house a micro black hole at its core which would slowly grow in size as it consumed the neutron star from the inside out. Eventually for reasons that I only barely comprehend (and would take way to long to explain) this mixture hits a tipping point and actually /blows up/. (Or more accurately, blows the shell off the whole shebang while imploding, leaving a black hole surrounded by a cloud of gas and an expanding plasma shockwave.)

        Then you get into the theories where they have to blow up /before/ becoming black holes. (An implosion wave similar to an implosion nuke compressing the core of the star past the neutronium stage into “oh shit physics broke” and creating a black hole.)

        In short: once you start getting neutronium involved, we are approaching the very limit of our understanding of the universe.

        For now.

        I am sure Steven Hawking has it all figured out; he’s just biding his time until he releases a slew of books that tie our understanding of this mess up nicely. (After he is proven right that black holes evaporate. If he is proven right? Lots of debate there still.)

    2. Ian Bush

      Of Moments and Neutrons

      Well complete non-expert here, not my area of science at all (I'm a chemist), but a few points

      1) Your average bar magnet is essentially charge neutral

      2) Note even the humble neutron has a magnetic moment, see the font of all knowledge at

      3) I strongly suspect that it is not really relevant, but El Reg has slightly simplified things! I realize many of the readers will be saying "no, this can not be true!" but it is! Actually a neutron star isn't just neutrons, its more complicated than that, but neutrons are a big part of one.

    3. This post has been deleted by its author

    4. Blue eyed boy

      Because the neutron has

      charged bits and bobs whirling around inside it. Three quarks for Dr. Boffin &c.

      And was Prof Alfvén any relation to Hugo Alfvén who wrote Swedish Rhapsody?

      1. TeeCee Gold badge

        "... this "neutronium" is highly unstable....."

        Cobblers. If that were the case you wouldn't be able to build humungous, crumpled-cone shaped, anti-proton beam equipped, planet munching doomsday devices out of it.

    5. beerandbiscuits

      As any fule kno

      you can reverse the polarity of a neutron flow, so what's the problem?

  17. John F***ing Stepp


    As some of you know I am not a Scientist and will never try to fool you into thinking I am one.

    (This honesty thing has kept me poor.)

    The operative term here is degenerative pressure.

    Over come the electron degenerative pressure and you have a neutron star.

    Overcome the neutron degenerative pressure and you have a (most times*) black hole.

    A Kerr singularity to be exact (because it spins).

    The Schwarzschild singularity probably does not exist.

    (Where probably means that I have never seen one.)

    *Let us return to that 'most times'.

    Quark degenerative pressure.

    There are several candidates for Quark Stars out there.

    They will be rare as hen's teeth and probably have some weird crap going on around them.

    There is even one level beyond that, but . . .

    Let us not go there because that would just complicate things.

    Now you are as confused as I am and my work here is done.

    1. frank ly Silver badge

      Communication Skills

      "..They will be rare as hen's teeth and probably have some weird crap going on around them..."

      I understood that bit. Can you re-write all of it for me, using that simple language. If you have time. Please.

  18. FozzyBear Silver badge

    @Andrew Tyler 1

    Now THAT'S an plan. Let me know when you're leaving I'll hitch a ride. I'll bring a case or two of beer to fully enjoy the view, music and experience

  19. This post has been deleted by its author

  20. Dr Patrick J R Harkin

    "nothing more than a star made of neutrons"

    Nothing more than a star made of neutrons PLUS a waffer thin mint. The explosive degustation balances the gravitational collapse.

    Do you think I could get into astrophysics on clearing?

  21. Mips
    Jobs Horns

    A blody big magnet?

    No wonder my watch stopped.

  22. ShaggyDoggy

    I can't believe nobody has said

    I, for one, welcome our new neutrony magnetar overlords

    1. Keris

      I can't believe nobody has said...

      ... anything about magnetards.

      (That was how I read the term when I first saw it.)

  23. Graham Bartlett
    Gates Halo

    "a sort of space version of America"

    Surprisingly similar in other respects too - round the edges there's some really bright stuff happening, but in the main it's unbelievably dense.

    Mind you, blackness is considered a bit more acceptable in space than it is in certain parts of the US.

    (That's not a picture of Bill Gates with a halo - that's a ring around Uranus.)

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