Scientists Say A Glitch In The Star Matrix Violently Ripped Apart An Asteroid

hero artist rendition of a magnetar
Scientists propose that antiglitch/glitch and fast radio bursts (FRBs) might be tied to a tidally captured asteroid by a magnetar. The model the scientists have created indicates an asteroid being tidally captured and disrupted by Galactic magnetar SGR J1935+2154.

A magnetar is a type of isolated neutron star made special by its intense magnetic field. The magnetic field produced by a magnetar can be 10 trillion times stronger than a refrigerator's magnet and up to a thousand times stronger than a normal neutron star. A new study suggests that when magnetar SGR J1935+2154 was seen "glitching," it was when the powerful neutron star destroyed an asteroid that had become tidally captured.

SGR J1935+2154 is located approximately 30,000 light-years from Earth close to the center of the Milky Way galaxy. Recent observations showed the magnetic neutron star "glitch", changing its rational speed after what researchers believe was an asteroid being pulled in by its enormous gravity and ripping the asteroid apart. That observation of the magnetar glitching is suspected by the researchers to have changed its rotational speed, while releasing an FRB at the same time.

magnetar 1e 1613
Image of magnetar 1E 1613.

In the new study, published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, researchers state, "If the orbital angular momentum of the asteroid is parallel (or antiparallel) to that of the spinning magnetar, a glitch (or antiglitch) will occur." They added, "Subsequently, the bound asteroid materials fall back to the pericentre and eventually are accreted to the surface of the magnetar. Massive fragments of the asteroid cross magnetic field lines and produce bright radio bursts through the coherent curvature radiation."

The origin of FRBs had been a mystery until recently. Paul Scholz, not part of the study, from the University of Toronto's Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics, remarked, "We've studied magnetars in our galaxy for decades, while FRBs are an extragalactic phenomenon whose origins have been a mystery. This event (on April 27, 2023) shows that the two phenomena are likely connected."

The new study indicates that the origin of FRBs by magnetars could be when the gravitational influence produces immense tidal forces in an asteroid so enormous that the asteroid is essentially ripped into pieces. The remains of the asteroid that are captured within the incredible magnetic field of the magnetar result in a process called magnetic reconnection, which sends out the FRBs.

More research will need to be done to confirm whether or not it was an asteroid that caused the FRBs. Scientists and astronomers will continue to keep an eye out for any remaining material from the suspected asteroid that may hit the surface of the magnetar, as it will produce incredibly powerful flares of energy in different frequencies of light.