Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Part-time pulsar yields new insight into inner workings of cosmic clocks


Astronomers using the 76-m Lovell radio telescope at the University of Manchester’s Jodrell Bank Observatory have discovered a very strange pulsar that helps explain how pulsars act as ‘cosmic clocks’ and confirms theories put forward 37 years ago to explain the way in which pulsars emit their regular beams of radio waves - considered to be one of the hardest problems in astrophysics. Their research, now published in Science Express, reveals a pulsar that is only ‘on’ for part of the time. The strange pulsar is spinning about its own axis and slows down 50% faster when it is ‘on’ compared to when it is ‘off’.

Pulsars are dense, highly magnetized neutron stars that are born in a violent explosion marking the death of massive stars. They act like cosmic lighthouses as they project a rotating beam of radio waves across the galaxy. Dr. Michael Kramer explains, "Pulsars are a physicist’s dream come true. They are made of the most extreme matter that we know of in the Universe, and their highly stable rotation makes them super-precise cosmic clocks. But, embarrassingly, we do not know how these clocks work. This discovery goes a long way towards solving this problem."

The research team, led by Dr. Michael Kramer, found a pulsar that is only periodically active. It appears as a normal pulsar for about a week and then “switches off” for about one month before emitting pulses again. The pulsar, called PSR B1931+24, is unique in this behaviour and affords astronomers an opportunity to compare its quiet and active phases. As it is quiet the majority of the time, it is difficult to detect, suggesting that there may be many other similar objects that have, so far, escaped detection.

Prof. Andrew Lyne points out that, “After the discovery of pulsars, theoreticians proposed that strong electric fields rip particles out of the neutron star surface into a surrounding magnetised cloud of plasma called the magnetosphere. But, for nearly 40 years, there had been no way to test whether our basic understanding was correct."

The University of Manchester astronomers were delighted when they found that this pulsar slows down more rapidly when the pulsar is on than when it is off. Dr. Christine Jordan points out the importance of this discovery, "We can clearly see that something hits the brakes when the pulsar is on.”

This breaking mechanism must be related to the radio emission and the processes creating it and the additional slow-down can be explained by a wind of particles leaving the pulsar’s magnetosphere and carrying away rotational energy. “Such a braking effect of the pulsar wind was expected but now, finally, we have observational evidence for it” adds Dr Duncan Lorimer.

The amount of braking can be related to the number of charges leaving the pulsar magnetosphere. Dr. Michael Kramer explains their surprise when it was found that the resulting number was within 2% of the theoretical predictions. "We were really shocked when we saw these numbers on our screens. Given the pulsar’s complexity, we never really expected the magnetospheric theory to work so well."

Prof. Andrew Lyne summarized the result: "It is amazing that, after almost 40 years, we have not only found a new, unusual, pulsar phenomenon but also a very unexpected way to confirm some fundamental theories about the nature of pulsars."

Julia Maddock | alfa
Further information:

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Scientists discover particles similar to Majorana fermions
25.10.2016 | Chinese Academy of Sciences Headquarters

nachricht Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves
24.10.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für Struktur und Dynamik der Materie

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: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

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

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Enormous dome in central Andes driven by huge magma body beneath it

25.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

First time-lapse footage of cell activity during limb regeneration

25.10.2016 | Life Sciences

Deep down fracking wells, microbial communities thrive

25.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>