August 16, 2022

Enlarge / Artist’s conception of a magnetar. (credit: Mark Garlick/Science Photo Library)

If you think black holes are the scariest things in the Universe, I have something to share with you.

There are balls of dead matter no bigger than a city yet shining a hundred times brighter than the Sun that send out flares of X-rays visible across the galaxy. Their interiors are made of superfluid subatomic particles, and they have cores of exotic and unknown states of matter. Their lifetime is only a few thousand years.

And here’s the best part: They have the strongest magnetic fields ever observed, so strong they can melt you—literally dissociate you down to the atomic level—from a thousand kilometers away.

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