Press Release

Top High-Energy Astronomy Prize Awarded for Ultra-Magnetic Star Discovery

By SpaceRef Editor
January 15, 2003
Filed under ,

Three scientists have won this year’s Bruno Rossi Prize, awarded by
the High Energy Astrophysics Division of the American Astronomical
Society (AAS), for their groundbreaking work on identifying
magnetars, exotic stars with magnetic fields powerful enough to strip
clean a credit card 100,000 miles away.

Sharing the award are Robert Duncan and Christopher Thompson, who
predicted the existence of magnetars and coined the name, and Chryssa
Kouveliotou, who provided the first observational evidence.

“I am delighted about winning the prize” Duncan said upon hearing the
news. ” My wife and I opened a bottle of champagne”

Duncan is an astrophysicist at the University of Texas, Austin.
Thompson is at the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics at
the University of Toronto. Together they laid the theoretical
groundwork for the magnetar as early as 1992. The magnetar, they
theorized, would be a rapidly spinning neutron star with a magnetic
field over a hundred trillion times stronger that the Sun’s and
Earth’s magnetic field. A neutron star is the compact, core remains
of a star once larger than the Sun that exploded in a supernova event.

Kouveliotou works for the National Space Science and Technology
Center at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.
Using NASA’s Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer and the Japanese Advanced
Satellite for Cosmology and Astrophysics, she and her colleagues
found that a neutron star they were studying was slowing down at
precisely the rate required for a magnetic field of 800 trillion
Gauss — on the order of what Duncan and Thompson predicted. The
Earth’s magnetic field is about half a Gauss.

Kouveliotou has since identified several more magnetars, also
characterized as Soft Gamma-ray Repeaters because they release pulses
of gamma rays. Scientists have also found that Anomalous X-ray
Pulsars, releasing pulses of X rays, are magnetars. The crushing
magnetic fields — slowing the star’s spin and causing the surface to
periodical crack — are thought to be the cause of a magnetar’s
unusual pattern of radiation.

The AAS High Energy Astrophysics Division awards the Rossi Prize in
recognition of significant contributions as well as recent and
original work in High Energy Astrophysics.
In awarding the prize, the HEAD executive committee recognized
“Robert Duncan and Christopher Thompson for their prediction,” and
“Chryssa Kouveliotou for her observational confirmation, of the
existence of magnetars: neutron stars with extraordinarily strong
magnetic fields.”

The prize is in honor of Professor Bruno Rossi, an authority of
cosmic rays whose experimental techniques at the Los Alamos
Laboratory and at Massachusetts Institute of Technology gave birth to
the field of X-ray astronomy. The Rossi Prize also includes a $1,500

Contact information of the three winners of the prize.

  • Robert Duncan
  • University of Texas, Austin, Texas.
  • [email protected]
  • (Work): +1 512-471-7426
  • (Fax): +1 512-471-6016
  • For more information about magnetars, refer to Duncan’s web site at

  • Christopher Thompson
  • Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics (CITA) – Toronto, Canada
  • [email protected]
  • (Fax): +1 416-978-8784

  • Chryssa Kouveliotou
  • National Space Science and Technology Center (NSSTC) – Marshall Space
  • Flight Center – Huntsville, Alabama
  • [email protected]
  • (Work): +1 256-961-7604
  • (Fax): +1 256-961-7215

SpaceRef staff editor.