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Astronomers have seen a star with a solid outer surface for the first time ever.

Large, blazing balls of plasma, often known as the “fourth state of matter,” are what stars are fundamentally. Plasma is created when heated gas condenses into a soup of positively charged ions and negatively charged electrons.

But now, a team of astronomers from around the world has made the first observation of a star with a solid outer shell, challenging long-held beliefs about the cosmic giants that fill the night sky.

A magnetar is a type of neutron star believed to have an extremely powerful magnetic field.Naeblys/iStock

According to a news release, the star’s magnetic field is so powerful that it seems to have “frozen” the star’s surface into a solid outer crust.

Magnetar observation was “completely unexpected”

When analyzing data from the Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE), a NASA satellite used to analyze the polarization of X-ray photons from stars and other space objects, astronomers discovered the finding.

The group looked at IXPE data on magnetar stars, a particular class of star. In the Cassiopeia constellation, around 13,000 light-years away from Earth, is the magnetar in question, 4U 0142+61. Because of their incredibly strong magnetic fields, magnetars, a particular kind of neutron star that is a collapsed supergiant star, were given that name. It’s the first time one of these star types has been studied in polarized X-ray radiation, which effectively reveals the way electromagnetic waves are vibrating, according to a recent research published in the journal Science.

Data from NASA’s IXPE satellite helped to discover the first solid surface star.

Unexpectedly, the polarized X-ray data showed that magnetar 4U 0142+61 did not have an atmosphere, contrary to what the project’s experts had anticipated. Most noticeably, as compared to light from lower energy, the polarization angle at higher energies was 90 degrees reversed. This proves that the magnetar has a magnetic field surrounding a solid surface. Scientists claim that the “It is believed that the star’s solid crust is made up of an ion lattice that is kept together by the magnetic field. The atoms would be stretched in the magnetic field’s direction rather than spherical.”

The study’s co-lead author, Professor Silvia Zane, remarked, “This was entirely unexpected.” “I was certain that there would be a mood. The star’s gas has reached a critical point and solidified, much as how water would freeze into ice. This is due to the star’s extraordinarily powerful magnetic field. Similar to how temperature affects water, a hotter gas will need a stronger magnetic field to solidify.”

Scientists set out to find more solid surface stars

In the current research, it is revealed for the first time that the star type has a solid crust based on magnetar observations. The discovery is unexpected, yet it is consistent with the commonly accepted assumption that magnetars have strong magnetic fields. The worldwide team of experts stated that more study is required in order to rule out other possible possibilities.

To further explore the effects of temperature and magnetic field intensity on a star’s outer surface, they intend to research hotter magnetars in the future. The scientific community has made the first-ever observation of a star whose surface is not defined by the “fourth state of matter,” and more observations will assist to rule out any alternative theories and confirm that.

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