12 Apr 2018

Rare star observed using NZ technology

3:20 pm on 12 April 2018

New Zealand radio astronomers are excited a rare star has been observed using technology they helped design.

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Part of the ensemble of dishes forming South Africa's MeerKAT radio telescope. Photo: AFP

South Africa's MeerKAT radio telescope which is still not at its full potential, has observed a magnetar, a neutron star which is one of the most magnetic objects in the known universe.

AUT senior lecturer Dr Willem van Straten said the magnetar was millions of times stronger than the strongest magnetic fields humans have ever generated in a laboratory.

Magnetars were challenging theorists, he said.

"Eventually we will discover the limits of what we can predict and hopefully that would motivate new theories in physics and those in turn could generate new technology," he said.

The observation was made using instrumentation designed by his team.

"It's very rewarding to see our piece of the SKA puzzle being put to good use," he said.

The MeerKAT telescope is a precursor for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project, which will be the world's largest radio telescope, with resolution and sensitivity 50 times greater than the Hubble Space Telescope.

New Zealand has already invested millions into the SKA project, which should be completed around 2030 in both South Africa and Australia.

The magnetar star observed using the MeerKAT is located 30,000 light years from Earth.

It works by receiving radio waves, which can be used by scientists to study celestial objects.

"This discovery was made using only a quarter of what MeerKat will be, which will be only a third of what the SKA will be in South Africa, so people are really excited about what new things will be possible," Dr Van Straten said.

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