Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Pulsars: The Universe's gift to physics

21.02.2012
Unique cosmic 'laboratories' yielding otherwise-unavailable insights

Pulsars, superdense neutron stars, are perhaps the most extraordinary physics laboratories in the Universe. Research on these extreme and exotic objects already has produced two Nobel Prizes. Pulsar researchers now are poised to learn otherwise-unavailable details of nuclear physics, to test General Relativity in conditions of extremely strong gravity, and to directly detect gravitational waves with a "telescope" nearly the size of our Galaxy.

Neutron stars are the remnants of massive stars that exploded as supernovae. They pack more than the mass of the Sun into a sphere no larger than a medium-sized city, making them the densest objects in the Universe, except for black holes, for which the concept of density is theoretically irrelevant. Pulsars are neutron stars that emit beams of radio waves outward from the poles of their magnetic fields. When their rotation spins a beam across the Earth, radio telescopes detect that as a "pulse" of radio waves.

By precisely measuring the timing of such pulses, astronomers can use pulsars for unique "experiments" at the frontiers of modern physics. Three scientists presented the results of such work, and the promise of future discoveries, at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Pulsars are at the forefront of research on gravity. Albert Einstein published his theory of General Relativity in 1916, and his description of the nature of gravity has, so far, withstood numerous experimental tests. However, there are competing theories.

"Many of these alternate theories do just as good a job as General Relativity of predicting behavior within our Solar System. One area where they differ, though, is in the extremely dense environment of a neutron star," said Ingrid Stairs, of the University of British Columbia.

In some of the alternate theories, gravity's behavior should vary based on the internal structure of the neutron star.

"By carefully timing pulsar pulses, we can precisely measure the properties of the neutron stars. Several sets of observations have shown that pulsars' motions are not dependent on their structure, so General Relativity is safe so far," Stairs explained.

Recent research on pulsars in binary-star systems with other neutron stars, and, in one case, with another pulsar, offer the best tests yet of General Relativity in very strong gravity. The precision of such measurements is expected to get even better in the future, Stairs said.

Another prediction of General Relativity is that motions of masses in the Universe should cause disturbances of space-time in the form of gravitational waves. Such waves have yet to be directly detected, but study of pulsars in binary-star systems have given indirect evidence for their existence. That work won a Nobel Prize in 1993.

Now, astronomers are using pulsars throughout our Milky Way Galaxy as a giant scientific instrument to directly detect gravitational waves.

"Pulsars are such extremely precise timepieces that we can use them to detect gravitational waves in a frequency range to which no other experiment will be sensitive," said Benjamin Stappers, of the University of Manchester in the UK.

By carefully timing the pulses from pulsars widely scattered within our Galaxy, the astronomers hope to measure slight variations caused by the passage of the gravitational waves. The scientists hope such Pulsar Timing Arrays can detect gravitational waves caused by the motions of supermassive pairs of black holes in the early Universe, cosmic strings, and possibly from other exotic events in the first few seconds after the Big Bang.

"At the moment, we can only place limits on the existence of the very low-frequency waves we're seeking, but planned expansion and new telescopes will, we hope, result in a direct detection within the next decade," Stappers said.

With densities as much as several times greater than that in atomic nuclei, pulsars are unique laboratories for nuclear physics. Details of the physics of such dense objects are unknown.

"By measuring the masses of neutron stars, we can put constraints on their internal physics," said Scott Ransom of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. "Just in the past three to four years, we've found several massive neutron stars that, because of their large masses, rule out some exotic proposals for what's going on at the centers of neutron stars," Ransom said.

The work is ongoing, and more measurements are needed. "Theorists are clever, so when we provide new data, they tweak their exotic models to fit what we've found," Ransom said.

Pulsars were discovered in 1967 and that discovery earned the Nobel Prize in 1974.

The National Radio Astronomy Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation, operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc.

Dave Finley | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://ww.nrao.edu

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht From rocks in Colorado, evidence of a 'chaotic solar system'
23.02.2017 | University of Wisconsin-Madison

nachricht Prediction: More gas-giants will be found orbiting Sun-like stars
22.02.2017 | Carnegie Institution for Science

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Safe glide at total engine failure with ELA-inside

On January 15, 2009, Chesley B. Sullenberger was celebrated world-wide: after the two engines had failed due to bird strike, he and his flight crew succeeded after a glide flight with an Airbus A320 in ditching on the Hudson River. All 155 people on board were saved.

On January 15, 2009, Chesley B. Sullenberger was celebrated world-wide: after the two engines had failed due to bird strike, he and his flight crew succeeded...

Im Focus: Breakthrough with a chain of gold atoms

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

Im Focus: DNA repair: a new letter in the cell alphabet

Results reveal how discoveries may be hidden in scientific “blind spots”

Cells need to repair damaged DNA in our genes to prevent the development of cancer and other diseases. Our cells therefore activate and send “repair-proteins”...

Im Focus: Dresdner scientists print tomorrow’s world

The Fraunhofer IWS Dresden and Technische Universität Dresden inaugurated their jointly operated Center for Additive Manufacturing Dresden (AMCD) with a festive ceremony on February 7, 2017. Scientists from various disciplines perform research on materials, additive manufacturing processes and innovative technologies, which build up components in a layer by layer process. This technology opens up new horizons for component design and combinations of functions. For example during fabrication, electrical conductors and sensors are already able to be additively manufactured into components. They provide information about stress conditions of a product during operation.

The 3D-printing technology, or additive manufacturing as it is often called, has long made the step out of scientific research laboratories into industrial...

Im Focus: Mimicking nature's cellular architectures via 3-D printing

Research offers new level of control over the structure of 3-D printed materials

Nature does amazing things with limited design materials. Grass, for example, can support its own weight, resist strong wind loads, and recover after being...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Booth and panel discussion – The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings at the AAAS 2017 Annual Meeting

13.02.2017 | Event News

Complex Loading versus Hidden Reserves

10.02.2017 | Event News

International Conference on Crystal Growth in Freiburg

09.02.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

New pop-up strategy inspired by cuts, not folds

27.02.2017 | Materials Sciences

Sandia uses confined nanoparticles to improve hydrogen storage materials performance

27.02.2017 | Interdisciplinary Research

Decoding the genome's cryptic language

27.02.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>