- Magnetars: the physics behind observations. A review
- Reports on Progress in Physics
- Volume | Issue number
- 78 | 11
- Article number
- Number of pages
- Document type
- Faculty of Science (FNWI)
- Anton Pannekoek Institute for Astronomy (API)
Magnetars are the strongest magnets in the present universe and the combination of extreme magnetic field, gravity and density makes them unique laboratories to probe current physical theories (from quantum electrodynamics to general relativity) in the strong field limit. Magnetars are observed as peculiar, burst-active x-ray pulsars, the anomalous x-ray pulsars (AXPs) and the soft gamma repeaters (SGRs); the latter emitted also three 'giant flares', extremely powerful events during which luminosities can reach up to 1047erg s−1 for about one second. The last five years have witnessed an explosion in magnetar research which has led, among other things, to the discovery of transient, or 'outbursting', and 'low-field' magnetars. Substantial progress has been made also on the theoretical side. Quite detailed models for explaining the magnetars' persistent x-ray emission, the properties of the bursts, the flux evolution in transient sources have been developed and confronted with observations. New insight on neutron star asteroseismology has been gained through improved models of magnetar oscillations. The long-debated issue of magnetic field decay in neutron stars has been addressed, and its importance recognized in relation to the evolution of magnetars and to the links among magnetars and other families of isolated neutron stars. The aim of this paper is to present a comprehensive overview in which the observational results are discussed in the light of the most up-to-date theoretical models and their implications. This addresses not only the particular case of magnetar sources, but the more fundamental issue of how physics in strong magnetic fields can be constrained by the observations of these unique sources.
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