Letter | Published:

An anti-glitch in a magnetar

Nature volume 497, pages 591593 (30 May 2013) | Download Citation

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Abstract

Magnetars are neutron stars with X-ray and soft γ-ray outbursts thought to be powered by intense internal magnetic fields1. Like conventional neutron stars in the form of radio pulsars, magnetars exhibit ‘glitches’ during which angular momentum is believed to be transferred between the solid outer crust and the superfluid component of the inner crust2,3,4. The several hundred observed glitches in radio pulsars5,6 and magnetars7 have involved a sudden spin-up (increase in the angular velocity) of the star, presumably because the interior superfluid was rotating faster than the crust. Here we report X-ray timing observations of the magnetar 1E 2259+586 (ref. 8), which exhibited a clear ‘anti-glitch’—a sudden spin-down. We show that this event, like some previous magnetar spin-up glitches9, was accompanied by multiple X-ray radiative changes and a significant spin-down rate change. Such behaviour is not predicted by models of neutron star spin-down and, if of internal origin, is suggestive of differential rotation in the magnetar, supporting the need for a rethinking of glitch theory for all neutron stars10,11.

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Acknowledgements

V.M.K. acknowledges support from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Discovery Grant and the John C. Polanyi Award, from the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, from Fonds de Recherche Nature et Technologies Québec, from the Canada Research Chairs Program, and from the Lorne Trottier Chair in Astrophysics and Cosmology. D.T. was supported by the Lorne Trottier Chair in Astrophysics and Cosmology and the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research. K.N.G. was supported by the Centre de Recherche en Astrophysique du Québec. We thank H. Medlin and J. Gelfand for help with the EVLA observation. We thank D. Eichler, B. Link, M. Lyutikov and C. Thompson for useful discussions. We acknowledge the use of public data from the Swift data archive.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Department of Physics, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec H3A 2T8, Canada

    • R. F. Archibald
    • , V. M. Kaspi
    • , C. -Y. Ng
    • , K. N. Gourgouliatos
    • , D. Tsang
    •  & P. Scholz
  2. Department of Physics, The University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam Road, Hong Kong

    • C. -Y. Ng
  3. Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Leicester, University Road, Leicester LE1 7RH, UK

    • A. P. Beardmore
  4. Astrophysics Science Division, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland 20771, USA

    • N. Gehrels
  5. Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, 525 Davey Laboratory, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania 16802, USA

    • J. A. Kennea

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Contributions

R.F.A. performed the data analysis and wrote portions of the analysis software. V.M.K. designed the study, was the project leader for the Swift data, proposed for the Chandra data and assisted with the interpretation of the data analysis and the theoretical implications. C.Y.N. proposed for the VLA data and reduced them and the Chandra data. K.N.G. and D.T. assisted with the theoretical implications. P.S. wrote significant portions of the Swift analysis software. A.P.B., N.G. and J.A.K. assisted with Swift observations and data analysis. R.F.A. wrote the paper with guidance from V.M.K. and with significant input from all co-authors.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to V. M. Kaspi.

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    Supplementary Information

    This file contains Supplementary Text and Data, which includes 1) Observations and 2) a Supplementary Discussion, Supplementary Figure 1 and additional references.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/nature12159

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