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 Astronomers release most complete ultraviolet-light survey of nearby galaxies
18.05.2018 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

nachricht A quantum entanglement between two physically separated ultra-cold atomic clouds
17.05.2018 | University of the Basque Country

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: Explanation for puzzling quantum oscillations has been found

So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics

Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...

Im Focus: Dozens of binaries from Milky Way's globular clusters could be detectable by LISA

Next-generation gravitational wave detector in space will complement LIGO on Earth

The historic first detection of gravitational waves from colliding black holes far outside our galaxy opened a new window to understanding the universe. A...

Im Focus: Entangled atoms shine in unison

A team led by Austrian experimental physicist Rainer Blatt has succeeded in characterizing the quantum entanglement of two spatially separated atoms by observing their light emission. This fundamental demonstration could lead to the development of highly sensitive optical gradiometers for the precise measurement of the gravitational field or the earth's magnetic field.

The age of quantum technology has long been heralded. Decades of research into the quantum world have led to the development of methods that make it possible...

Im Focus: Computer-Designed Customized Regenerative Heart Valves

Cardiovascular tissue engineering aims to treat heart disease with prostheses that grow and regenerate. Now, researchers from the University of Zurich, the Technical University Eindhoven and the Charité Berlin have successfully implanted regenerative heart valves, designed with the aid of computer simulations, into sheep for the first time.

Producing living tissue or organs based on human cells is one of the main research fields in regenerative medicine. Tissue engineering, which involves growing...

Im Focus: Light-induced superconductivity under high pressure

A team of scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg investigated optically-induced superconductivity in the alkali-doped fulleride K3C60under high external pressures. This study allowed, on one hand, to uniquely assess the nature of the transient state as a superconducting phase. In addition, it unveiled the possibility to induce superconductivity in K3C60 at temperatures far above the -170 degrees Celsius hypothesized previously, and rather all the way to room temperature. The paper by Cantaluppi et al has been published in Nature Physics.

Unlike ordinary metals, superconductors have the unique capability of transporting electrical currents without any loss. Nowadays, their technological...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Save the date: Forum European Neuroscience – 07-11 July 2018 in Berlin, Germany

02.05.2018 | Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

Unique scope of UV LED technologies and applications presented in Berlin: ICULTA-2018

12.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Supersonic waves may help electronics beat the heat

18.05.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Keeping a Close Eye on Ice Loss

18.05.2018 | Information Technology

CrowdWater: An App for Flood Research

18.05.2018 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>