West Virginia Student Discovers New Pulsar

January 22, 2010
Shay Bloxton. CREDIT: NRAO/AUI/NSF

(PhysOrg.com) -- A West Virginia high-school student has discovered a new pulsar, using data from the giant Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT).

Shay Bloxton, 15, a participant in a project in which students analyze data from the radio telescope, spotted evidence of the on October 15. Bloxton, along with NRAO astronomers observed the object again one month later. The new observation confirmed that the object is a pulsar, a rotating, superdense neutron star. Bloxton is a sophomore at Nicholas County High School in Summersville, West Virginia.

"I was very excited when I found out I had actually made a discovery," Bloxton said. She went to Green Bank in November to participate in the follow-up observation. She termed that visit "a great experience."

"It also helped me learn a lot about how observations with the GBT are actually done," she added.

The project in which she participated, called the Pulsar Search Collaboratory (PSC), is a joint project of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) and West Virginia University, funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

Pulsars are known for their lighthouse-like beams of that sweep through space as the neutron star rotates, creating a pulse as the beam sweeps by the Earth. First discovered in 1967, pulsars serve as valuable natural "laboratories" for physicists studying exotic states of matter, and . The GBT, dedicated in 2000, has become one of the world's leading tools for discovering and studying pulsars.

The PSC, led by NRAO Education Officer Sue Ann Heatherly and Project Director Rachel Rosen, includes training for teachers and student leaders, and provides parcels of data from the GBT to student teams. The project involves teachers and students in helping astronomers analyze data from 1500 hours of observing with the GBT. The 120 terabytes of data were produced by 70,000 individual pointings of the giant, 17-million-pound . Some 300 hours of the observing data were reserved for analysis by student teams.

The student teams use analysis software to reveal evidence of pulsars. Each portion of the data is analyzed by multiple teams. In addition to learning to use the analysis software, the student teams also must learn to recognize man-made radio interference that contaminates the data. The project will continue through 2011. Teachers interested in participating in the program can learn more at this link.

For Bloxton, the pulsar discovery may be only her first in a scientific career. "Participating in the PSC has definitely encouraged me to pursue my dream of being an astrophysicist," she said, adding that she hopes to attend West Virginia University to study astrophysics.

Late last year, another West Virginia student, from South Harrison High School, Lucas Bolyard, discovered a pulsar-like object called a rotating radio transient. His discovery also came through participation in the PSC.

Explore further: Astronomers discover fastest-spinning pulsar

Related Stories

Astronomers discover fastest-spinning pulsar

January 12, 2006

A team of astronomers led by McGill University graduate student Jason Hessels has discovered the fastest-spinning neutron star, or pulsar, ever found. The 20-mile-diameter superdense pulsar, which at 716 revolutions per second ...

New Hydrogen Clouds in the M81 Group of Galaxies

January 10, 2008

A composite radio-optical image shows five new clouds of hydrogen gas discovered using the National Science Foundation's Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT). The spiral galaxy M81 and its satellite, M82, are seen in ...

New technique improves estimates of pulsar ages

June 9, 2009

Astronomers at the University of California, Santa Cruz, have developed a new technique to determine the ages of millisecond pulsars, the fastest-spinning stars in the universe.

Astronomers get new tools for gravitational-wave detection

January 5, 2010

Teamwork between gamma-ray and radio astronomers has produced a breakthrough in finding natural cosmic tools needed to make the first direct detections of the long-elusive gravitational waves predicted by Albert Einstein ...

Recommended for you

Image: The ghost of a dying star

August 5, 2015

This extraordinary bubble, glowing like the ghost of a star in the haunting darkness of space, may appear supernatural and mysterious, but it is a familiar astronomical object: a planetary nebula, the remnants of a dying ...

Will SETI's unprecedented new program finally find E.T.?

August 4, 2015

Stephen Hawking, Frank Drake and dozens of journalists gathered at the Royal Society in London last week to hear astronomers announce a ground-breaking new project to search for intelligent extraterrestrial life called "Breakthrough ...

Galaxies show appetite for growth

August 4, 2015

The extent to which galaxies consume one another has been revealed in research. Findings from the study help to explain how galaxies such as the Milky Way were formed.

Tracking a mysterious group of asteroid outcasts

August 4, 2015

High above the plane of our solar system, near the asteroid-rich abyss between Mars and Jupiter, scientists have found a unique family of space rocks. These interplanetary oddballs are the Euphrosyne (pronounced you-FROH-seh-nee) ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.