From SLAC Today: “A New Way to Discover Pulsars”

May 21, 2012
by David Reffkin

“The Large Area Telescope (LAT), built by SLAC for the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, collects information on high-energy gamma rays from numerous sources in the sky. Among these are small, elusive objects called pulsars, which spin up to hundreds of times per second. Their name derives from the beams their magnetic fields produce as a result of this spin, which look like the pulsing beam of a lighthouse when, by chance, they happen to sweep across our field of view.

Pulsars are very interesting to scientists because they are special types of neutron stars. Small (about 10 miles in diameter) and dense (one teaspoon weighs about a billion tons), they exhibit immense gravitational and magnetic forces not found on Earth.

The LAT has seen the gamma-ray signatures of more than 100 pulsars and is revolutionizing the study of these flashy objects in gamma rays, which are the most energetic form of light.

A team led by postdoctoral researcher Matthew Kerr of the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology (KIPAC), and Columbia University radio astronomer Fernando Camilo is reporting the use of new techniques for hunting pulsars. They and their colleagues have found a way to look for likely pulsar candidates by combining observations from the LAT and the Parkes radio telescope in Australia. This approach combines the broad reach of an all-sky telescope (the LAT) with the deep sensitivity of a radio telescope, which can view only a tiny part of the sky at a time.”

pulsar
A diagram of a pulsar showing its rotation axis, its magnetic axis, and its magnetic field (NASA Goddard).

See the full article here.

IF YOU WANT TO BE A PULSAR HUNTER RIGHT AT HOME IN YOUR JAMMIES AND SLIPPERS, YOU CAN DO IT. JUST VISIT EINSTEIN@HOME, TAKE A LOOK AT THE PROJECT, A CITIZEN CYBERSCIENCE ADVENTURE LOOKING FOR PULSARS. YOU CAN DOWNLOAD THE NECESSARY SOFTWARE TO WORK ON THE PROJECT FROM BERKELEY OPEN INFRASTRUCTURE FOR NETWORK COMPUTING (BOINC), INSTALL THE SOFTWARE IN JUST A COUPLE OF MINUTES ON WINDOWS, MAC, AND LINUX MACHINES, AND ATTACH TO THE PROJECT. WHO KNOW, MAYBE YOU WILL BE THE NEXT TO FIND A PULSAR AND GET CREDIT FOR IT.

SLAC is a multi-program laboratory exploring frontier questions in photon science, astrophysics, particle physics and accelerator research. Located in Menlo Park, California, SLAC is operated by Stanford University for the DOE’s Office of Science.
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