When stars many times the size of our sun burn out in that cosmic conflagration known as a supernova, they leave behind a dense field of remnant particles, a mass that spins furiously around into a brand new kind of star, known as a neutron star, emitting magnetic fields one -thousand-trillion times more powerful than earth’s magnetic field. Imagine a magnet so strong that if pointed at the Empire State Building it would cause the skyscraper to twirl like a paper clip, with its attachment occurring in the blink of an eye. Astronomers call these magnetic stars magnetars.
In the summer of 2006, a team of scientists at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory detected never-before seen activity coming from one particular magnetar an estimated 10,000 light-years away. The object originally had been discovered in 2003 by NASA scientists and named XTE J1810-197. Magnetars did not emit radio waves, or at least they were not believed to. Bursts of X-rays, yes; radio waves, no. But a Columbia University astronomer named Jules Halpern surprisingly discovered that this XTE J1810-197 was, indeed, mystifyingly, emitting radio waves. Baffled astronomers around the world took aim at solving the puzzle.
Scott Ransom of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory issued the following statement in August 2006: “We’ ll continue monitoring this crazy object with as many telescopes as we can get our hands on and as often as possible. Hopefully seeing all these changes with time will ...