July 24, 2012
Stars are responsible for forging every heavy element in the universe when they fuse hydrogen and when they explode at the ends of their lives. But they also create a strange third type of chemical bond between atoms, caused by their incredible magnetic fields. This previously unknown type of bond could lead to new research in quantum science, perhaps even quantum computing.
Kai Lange, Trygve Helgaker and colleagues at the University of Oslo discovered this third bond by accident, when they were studying the magnetic fields in compact stars like white dwarfs, magnetars and neutron stars. Some white dwarfs have magnetic fields 10,000 times the strongest field anyone can produce on Earth, for instance, and neutron stars are five orders of magnitude more powerful. This is certain to introduce some strange behaviors that go beyond the Coulomb force we all know and love.
Basic chemistry teaches us that there are two types of bonds between atoms: Covalent bonds, where adjoining atoms simply share their outer-shell electrons, and ionic bonds, where two oppositely charged atoms are attracted to each other. This newly found third type only exists in these supercharged magnetic fields.