In a major breakthrough for understanding what one of them calls "the most exotic environment in the Universe," a team of astronomers has discovered that powerful radio bursts in pulsars are generated by structures as small as a beach ball.
VLA Image of Crab Nebula
Diagram of a Pulsar
"These are by far the smallest objects ever detected outside our solar system," said Tim Hankins, leader of the research team, which studied the pulsar at the center of the Crab Nebula, more than 6,000 light-years from Earth. "The small size of these regions is inconsistent with all but one proposed theory for how the radio emission is generated," he added.
The other members of the team are Jeff Kern, James Weatherall and Jean Eilek. Hankins was a visiting scientist at Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico at the time the pulsar observations were made. He and Eilek are professors at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (New Mexico Tech) in Socorro, NM. Kern is a graduate student at NM Tech and a predoctoral fellow at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in Socorro. Weatherall is an adjunct professor at NM Tech, currently working at the Federal Aviation Administration. The astronomers reported their discovery in the March 13 edition of the scientific journal Nature.
David Brand | Cornell University News Service
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