Astronomers have discovered a pulsar – a thick, fast-moving neutron star sending radio waves to the cosmos – using a low-frequency radio telescope in Australia back.
The pulsar was detected with the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) telescope, in the remote West Midlands region.
This is the first time scientists have discovered a pulsar with the MWA but they believe it will be the first of many.
The finding signals things to come from the billions of dollars worth of Square kilometers Array (SKA) telescope. The MWA is a precursor telescope for the SKA.
Nick Swainston, Ph.D. a student at the Curtin University goal of the International Center for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR), made the discovery while processing data collected as part of an ongoing pulsar survey.
“Pulsars are born as a result of superpowers – when a massive star explodes and dies, it can leave a collapsed core called a neutron star,” he said.
“They are about one-and-a-half times the mass of the Sun, but all squeeze within just 20 kilometers, and have ultra-strong magnetic fields.”
Mr Swainston said pulsars spin quickly and emit electromagnetic radiation from their magnetic poles.
“Every time that emission sweeps across our line of sight, we see a pulse – that’s why we call them pulsars,” he said. “You can imagine it as a huge cosmic lighthouse.”
ICRAR-Curtin astronomer Dr. Ramesh Bhat, found that the newly discovered pulsar is located more than 3000 light years from Earth and spins about once every second.
“That’s incredibly fast compared to regular stars and planets,” he said. “But in the world of pulsars, it’s pretty normal.”
Dr. Bhat found the finding using about one percent of the large amount of data collected for the pulsar survey.
“We just scratched the surface,” he said. “When we do this full-scale project, we should find hundreds of pulsars in the coming years.”
Astronomers use pulsars for several applications including testing the laws of physics under extreme conditions.
“A spoonful of neutron star material would weigh millions of tons,” said Dr. Bhat.
“Their magnetic fields are some of the strongest in the Universe – about 1000 billion times stronger than what we have on Earth.”
“So we can use them to do physics that we can’t do in any of the labs on Earth.”
Finding pulsars and using them for extreme physics is also a key science driver for the SKA telescope.
MWA Director Professor Steven Tingay said the discovery suggested a large population of pulses were waiting to be discovered in the Southern Hemisphere.
“This finding is very exciting because the data processing is extremely challenging, and the results show the potential for us to discover many more pulsars with the MWA and the low frequency part of the SKA.”
“Studying pulsars is one of the SKA’s major areas of science worth billions of dollars, so it’s great that our team is at the forefront of this work,” he said.
Eight new millisecond pulses discovered by MeerKAT
Discovering steep spectrum low light pulse with Widefield’s Murchison Array, Letters of the Astrophysical Journal, April 21, 2021
Provided by ICRAR
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