Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Pulsar Bursts Coming From Beachball-Sized Structures

13.03.2003


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.


Pulsars are superdense neutron stars, the remnants of massive stars that exploded as supernovae. Pulsars emit powerful beams of radio waves and light. As the neutron star spins, the beam sweeps through space like the beam of a lighthouse. When such a beam sweeps across the Earth, astronomers see a pulse from the pulsar. The Crab pulsar spins some 33 times every second.

British radio astronomers discovered pulsars in 1967, one receiving the Nobel Prize for the discovery. In the years since, the method by which pulsars produce their powerful beams of electromagnetic radiation has remained a mystery.

With the help of engineers at the NRAO, Hankins and his team designed and built specialized electronic equipment that allowed them to study the pulsar’s radio pulses on extremely small time scales. They took this equipment to the National Science Foundation’s giant, 1,000-foot-diameter radio telescope at Arecibo. With their equipment, they analyzed the Crab pulsar’s superstrong "giant" pulses, breaking them down into tiny time segments.

The researchers discovered that some of the "giant" pulses contain subpulses that last no longer than two nanoseconds. That means, they say, that the regions in which these subpulses are generated can be no larger than about two feet across -- the distance that light could travel in two nanoseconds.

This fact, the researchers say, is critically important to understanding how the powerful radio emission is generated.

A pulsar’s magnetosphere -- the region above the neutron star’s magnetic poles where the radio waves are generated -- is "the most exotic environment in the Universe," said Kern. In this environment, matter exists as a plasma, in which electrically charged particles are free to respond to the very strong electric and magnetic fields in the star’s atmosphere.

The very short subpulses the researchers detected could only be generated, they say, by a strange process in which density waves in the plasma interact with their own electrical field, becoming progressively denser until they reach a point at which they "collapse explosively" into superstrong bursts of radio waves.

"None of the other proposed mechanisms can produce such short pulses," Eilek said. "The ability to examine these pulses on such short time scales has given us a new window through which to study pulsar radio emission," she added.

The Crab pulsar is one of only three pulsars known to emit superstrong "giant" pulses. "Giant" pulses occur occasionally among the steady but much weaker "normal" pulses coming from the neutron star.

Some of the brief subpulses within the Crab’s "giant" pulses are second only to the Sun in their radio brightness in the sky. Although the mechanism that converts the plasma energy to radio waves in the Crab’s "giant" pulses may be unique to the Crab pulsar, it is feasible that all radio pulsars may operate the same way. The research team now is observing signals from other pulsars to see if they are fundamentally different. The subpulses in the Crab’s "giant" pulses are so strong that the team’s equipment could detect them even if they originated not in our own Milky Way Galaxy, but in a nearby galaxy.

The Crab Nebula is a cloud of glowing debris from a star that was seen to explode on July 4, 1054. Chinese astronomers noted the bright new star that outshone the planet Venus and was visible in daylight for 23 days. A rock carving at New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon probably indicates that Native American skywatchers also noted the bright intruder in the sky.

The nebula was discovered by John Bevis in 1731 and independently rediscovered by French astronomer Charles Messier on August 28, 1758. Messier made the Crab Nebula (named because of its crab-like shape) the first object in his famous catalog of non-stellar objects, a catalog widely popular among amateur astronomers with small telescopes.

In 1948, radio emission was discovered coming from the Crab Nebula. In 1968, astronomers at Arecibo Observatory discovered the pulsar in the heart of the nebula. The following year, astronomers at Arizona’s Steward Observatory discovered visible-light pulses also coming from the pulsar, making this the first pulsar found to emit visible light in addition to radio waves.

The National Radio Astronomy Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation, operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc. The Arecibo Observatory is part of the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center, which is operated by Cornell University under a cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation..

David Brand | Cornell University News Service
Further information:
http://www.aoc.nrao.edu/epo/pr/2003/pulsaremission/

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Significantly more productivity in USP lasers
06.12.2016 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Lasertechnik ILT

nachricht Shape matters when light meets atom
05.12.2016 | Centre for Quantum Technologies at the National University of Singapore

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: Significantly more productivity in USP lasers

In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.

Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

NTU scientists build new ultrasound device using 3-D printing technology

07.12.2016 | Health and Medicine

The balancing act: An enzyme that links endocytosis to membrane recycling

07.12.2016 | Life Sciences

How to turn white fat brown

07.12.2016 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>