A new, magnetic atom

ArsTechnica looks into the fiery plasma of a blazing neutron star to discover a bizarre frontier of physics based on stuff that’s made from a new kind of atom, unlike any on Earth:

Bonds between atoms are electrical in character: atoms share electrons or mutually ionize, creating an attractive force binding them together. However, researchers are now suggesting that it may be possible to generate magnetic bonds, resulting in stable molecules of different types than exist on Earth. While these molecules can’t be produced with even our strongest laboratory magnets, they could form in the extreme magnetic fields near white dwarfs and neutron stars, and their unique spectral signatures may make them visible through observations.

The researchers also performed FCI calculations for helium, which only forms molecules under extreme conditions—and even then the results are highly unstable. They found magnetic bonds were possible, meaning quasi-stable paramagnetic He2 could exist. As with H2, however, the molecules were found to break apart when the external field was turned off.

Because of the fundamentally different character of magnetic H2, its spectrum—the wavelengths of light absorbed and emitted—will be different than the spectrum of covalent H2. Similarly, magnetic He2 has a unique spectrum. If magnetic molecules exist in the atmospheres of white dwarfs or neutron stars, they might be detectable, assuming they are produced in sufficient quantities.

Yeah – they’re talking about locating stars by detecting magnetic helium. Freaky, huh?