A never-before-seen magnetar nebula was just discovered

The most powerful magnets in the universe are caught red-handed with a cloud of debris from the supernova that birthed them.
By | Published: June 21, 2016 | Last updated on May 18, 2023
ESA/XMM-Newton/Younes et al. 2016

For the first time, a magnetar has been found with a wind nebula around it, adding on to the wild nature of these ultra-powerful stellar remnants.

Magnetars are a type of pulsar that has an intense magnetic field around it, making these supernova remnants the most powerful magnets in the universe. Though magnetars (and other pulsars) are around 12-15 miles in diameter, they’re made of highly condensed neutrons and emit regular bursts of energy in the radio spectrum. 

There have only been 29 magnetars found to date, so, granted, the sampling size is small, but the newly discovered magnetar Swift J1834.9-0846 has another unusual feature around it: a so-called “wind nebula,” where the gasses expelled by a supernova are then whipped around to velocities approaching the speed of light by the pulsar at the “heart” of the former massive star. The observations of the wind nebula were taken by ESA’s XMM-Newton observatory.

Initially detected by NASA’s Swift telescope in 2011, 1834.9-0846 may be associated with the W41 supernova event, putting it around 13,000 light years away. Given what’s known about that supernova, astronomers believe this may be a longer lasting wind nebula than any spotted before. Further studies could give insight into how these discoveries were made.