Astronomers harness the galaxy's biggest telescope to make most precise measurement of spinning star

May 06, 2014
The densely packed matter of a pulsar spins at incredible speeds, and emits radio waves that can be observed from Earth, but how neutron stars emit these waves is still a mystery. Credit: Swinburne Astronomy Productions/CAASTRO.

(Phys.org) —An international team of astronomers has made a measurement of a distant neutron star that is one million times more precise than the previous world's best.

The researchers were able to use the , the 'empty' space between stars and galaxies that is made up of sparsely spread charged particles, as a giant lens to magnify and look closely at the radio wave emission from a small rotating neutron star.

This technique yielded the highest resolution measurement ever achieved, equivalent to being able to see the double-helix structure of our genes from the Moon!

"Compared to other objects in space, neutron stars are tiny – only tens of kilometres in diameter – so we need extremely high resolution to observe them and understand their physics," Dr Jean-Pierre Macquart from the Curtin University node of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) in Perth said.

Dr Macquart, a member of the ARC Centre of Excellence for All-sky Astrophysics (CAASTRO), said were particularly interesting objects to study, as some of them – called pulsars – gave off pulsed whose beams swept across telescopes at regular intervals.

"More than 45 years since astronomers discovered pulsars, we still don't understand the mechanism by which they emit radio wave pulses," he said.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
A spinning neutron star emitting a stream of radio waves that appear as regular pulses when observed from Earth. Simulation credit to Swinburne Astronomy Productions/CAASTRO.

The researchers found they could use the distortions of these pulse signals as they passed through the turbulent interstellar medium to reconstruct a close in view of the pulsar from thousands of individual sub-images of the pulsar.

"The best we could previously do was pointing a large number of radio telescopes across the world at the same pulsar, using the distance between the telescopes on Earth to get good resolution," Dr Macquart said.

The previous record using combined views from many telescopes was an angular resolution of 50 microarcseconds, but the team - led by Professor Ue-Li Pen of the Canadian Institute of Theoretical Astrophysics and a CAASTRO Partner Investigator - has now proven their 'interstellar lens' can get down to 50 picoarcseconds, or a million times more detail, resolving areas of less than 5km in the emission region.

"Our new method can take this technology to the next level and finally get to the bottom of some hotly debated theories about pulsar emission," Professor Pen said.

Testing their technique on pulsar B0834+06, the researchers found the neutron star's emission region was much smaller than previously assumed and possibly much closer to the star's surface – which might be the most crucial element in understanding the origin of the radio wave emission.

"What's more, this new technique also opens up the possibilities for precise distance measurements to pulsars that orbit a companion star and 'image' their extremely small orbits – which is ultimately a new and highly sensitive test of Einstein's theory of General Relativity," Professor Pen said.

Explore further: 'Jekyll and Hyde' star morphs from radio to X-ray pulsar and back again

More information: Ue-Li Pen, Jean-Pierre Macquart, Adam T. Deller, and Walter Brisken. "50 picoarcsec astrometry of pulsar emission." MNRAS (May 01, 2014) Vol. 440 L36-L40 first published online February 14, 2014. DOI: 10.1093/mnrasl/slu010 . Also available on arXiv: http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2014MNRAS.440L..36P

Provided by International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research

4.8 /5 (24 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Chameleon pulsar baffles astronomers

Jan 24, 2013

A pulsar that is able, without warning, to dramatically change the way in which it shines has been identified by an international team of astronomers.

Pulsars: The Universe's gift to physics

Feb 19, 2012

Pulsars, superdense neutron stars, are perhaps the most extraordinary physics laboratories in the Universe. Research on these extreme and exotic objects already has produced two Nobel Prizes. Pulsar researchers now are poised ...

Recommended for you

Mystery of rare five-hour space explosion explained

Sep 17, 2014

Next week in St. Petersburg, Russia, scientists on an international team that includes Penn State University astronomers will present a paper that provides a simple explanation for mysterious ultra-long gamma-ray ...

Glowing galaxies in telescopic timelapse

Sep 17, 2014

We often speak of the discoveries and data flowing from astronomical observatories, which makes it easy to forget the cool factor. Think of it—huge telescopes are probing the universe under crystal-clear ...

Violent origins of disc galaxies probed by ALMA

Sep 17, 2014

For decades scientists have believed that galaxy mergers usually result in the formation of elliptical galaxies. Now, for the the first time, researchers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/sub-millimeter ...

User comments : 22

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

no fate
1.7 / 5 (6) May 06, 2014
They could call this new technique "Not gravitational lensing".
What is going to be really cool is if they can image it well enough to figure out that it isn't a rotating, steady emmission beam, but an object emitting pulses on an axis that we happen to be aligned with. No there isn't a paper on this yet as it is a prediction by a theory that has only been physically modelled recently. But it would be nice to observe it and get instrumental verification.

Mainstream regulars, if it is ever proven the emmissions are not as I posted above, I will eat a plate of dark matter and for desert never involve myself in science again.
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (10) May 06, 2014
What is going to be really cool is if they can image it well enough to figure out that it isn't a rotating, steady emmission beam, but an object emitting pulses on an axis that we happen to be aligned with.


What is going to be really really cool is when they realize it is the electric current which is pinching to create the star and the magnetic field, and is pulsing to create the emission. There is no magic here, flowing electric current results in magnetic field.
no fate
4.4 / 5 (7) May 06, 2014
What is going to be really cool is if they can image it well enough to figure out that it isn't a rotating, steady emmission beam, but an object emitting pulses on an axis that we happen to be aligned with.


What is going to be really really cool is when they realize it is the electric current which is pinching to create the star and the magnetic field, and is pulsing to create the emission. There is no magic here, flowing electric current results in magnetic field.


Yeah...that's how we modelled it. We filled a chamber with plasma, left for coffee, and when we got it back it had formed a pulsar, a hurricane, and canyon in the floor of the chamber...goof.
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (6) May 06, 2014
What is going to be really cool is if they can image it well enough to figure out that it isn't a rotating, steady emmission beam, but an object emitting pulses on an axis that we happen to be aligned with.


What is going to be really really cool is when they realize it is the electric current which is pinching to create the star and the magnetic field, and is pulsing to create the emission. There is no magic here, flowing electric current results in magnetic field.


Yeah...that's how we modelled it. We filled a chamber with plasma, left for coffee, and when we got it back it had formed a pulsar, a hurricane, and canyon in the floor of the chamber...goof.

Awesome, you must really be a purveyor of magic... How did you come up with the plasma though?
barakn
4.5 / 5 (8) May 06, 2014
Awesome, you must really be a purveyor of magic... How did you come up with the plasma though?

It helps to have friends at the Red Cross.
no fate
4.2 / 5 (5) May 07, 2014
Awesome, you must really be a purveyor of magic... How did you come up with the plasma though?

It helps to have friends at the Red Cross.


I was going to say via electrothermal ionization of hydrogen gas...but this answer is way better.

cantdrive85
1 / 5 (4) May 07, 2014
Awesome, you must really be a purveyor of magic... How did you come up with the plasma though?

It helps to have friends at the Red Cross.


I was going to say via electrothermal ionization of hydrogen gas...but this answer is way better.


Odd it isn't magneto-thermal ionization...

cantdrive85
1 / 5 (4) May 07, 2014
Fate, I'm curious if you are familiar with Miles Mathis' "Charge Field". It shows we needn't rely on magic to explain EM.

http://milesmathi...yway.pdf
no fate
3 / 5 (2) May 07, 2014
Awesome, you must really be a purveyor of magic... How did you come up with the plasma though?

It helps to have friends at the Red Cross.


I was going to say via electrothermal ionization of hydrogen gas...but this answer is way better.


Odd it isn't magneto-thermal ionization...



Not odd at all, we used magnets to generate the electricity though. Good paper from Mathis, it echoes what we have, right down to the flow through a concentration of energy. You do get that charge is a magnetic property right? That motion of energy is dictated by charge as Mathis shows, as opposed to energy generating potential and then moving according to it as you constantly vomit out. His paper doesn't support those EU misinterpretations. What he calls the charge field we call a flux field, the terms are interchangeable but it does have the mass equivalence he formulates.
no fate
3 / 5 (2) May 07, 2014
CD85: How do you account for the existence of an unbound electron. How is the energy of the electron confined to it's structure?
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (3) May 07, 2014
CD85: How do you account for the existence of an unbound electron. How is the energy of the electron confined to it's structure?

It is likely a plasmoid.

That motion of energy is dictated by charge as Mathis shows, as opposed to energy generating potential and then moving according to it as you constantly vomit out.


That is precisely how the EU assumes it to be as well, the movement of the charge (electricity) creates the energy. I've never claimed what you're suggesting, there is a distinct difference between electricity and electrical energy.

His paper doesn't support those EU misinterpretations.


The misinterpretations lie with you and your ignorance of EU theory.
no fate
3.7 / 5 (3) May 07, 2014
"It is likely a plasmoid" answers neither question. You equate charge to electricity...from there you get moving charges create a magnetic field and generate electrical energy. So in your version of EU Theory you have quantized "charge" as opposed to it manifesting as a property of a particle...O--K----

No wonder you (EU) can't produce a single experimental example of anything you claim. You simply do not understand how these things actually work. The property of charge describes the state of an objects magnetic moment. Charge is not an entity, a structure or a waveform....or am i misinterpreting what you meant when you bracketed the word electricity behind the word charge as though to indicate they are one in the same?
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (3) May 07, 2014
You equate charge to electricity

No, not at all. Slowly now, charge is a "property of a particle", as you say. Electricity is defined as the movement of said charge.
no fate
3.7 / 5 (3) May 08, 2014
You equate charge to electricity

No, not at all. Slowly now, charge is a "property of a particle", as you say. Electricity is defined as the movement of said charge.


Now I understand...you make up definitions for words. If you got on the same page as the rest of us it might lift the fog a bit for you.

Electricity: http://www.merria...ctricity

Also, your definition doesn't work for a single, stationary particle does it? Or is the charge moving around inside the particle to generate the energy component of the particle? Do you need another pill?

cantdrive85
1.5 / 5 (4) May 08, 2014

Now I understand...you make up definitions for words. If you got on the same page as the rest of us it might lift the fog a bit for you.

Electricity: http://www.merria...ctricity


So Merriam-Webster is the authority on this topic? It is in fact not me which chooses definitions for convenience. Here I thought we were discussing scientific definitions, not what stuff means to seven year olds. Let us see what Maxwell, JJ Thompson, Millikan, Faraday, Einstein, and the NIST have to say on the matter.

http://amasci.com...ell.html

Clearly it is you which chooses to make definitions up. I ask, what is electricity? Oops!
barakn
3.7 / 5 (3) May 08, 2014
Slowly now, charge is a "property of a particle", as you say. Electricity is defined as the movement of said charge.
...writes cantdrive85, who then goes on to post a link wherein it's very clearly stated that electricity has nothing to do with movement.
cantdrive85
May 08, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
no fate
3 / 5 (2) May 08, 2014

Clearly it is you which chooses to make definitions up. I ask, what is electricity? Oops!


Well, you claim to know/understand what the answer is to your question.

Yet in our back and forths you have managed to avoid answering a single question asked of you regarding the functionality of the EU theory...as always. You make a claim, like in this debate about charge, then you back peddle to change what you said (or meant) in the face of a question you can't answer, while continually trying to deflect attention away from other questions you can't answer. You clearly have no clue about plasma physics when you make a statement like: "it is the electric current which is pinching to create the star and the magnetic field, and is pulsing to create the emission". Anyone who does wouldn't say this.

I went the 7 year old kid route for your sake as that is what it feels like I am talking to.

cantdrive85
1 / 5 (3) May 08, 2014
Yet in our back and forths you have managed to avoid answering a single question asked of you regarding the functionality of the EU theory.

You're changing the topic before you have the basics figured out. Clearly you don't know the difference between electricity and electric energy. What good does it do to answer a question before the basics are understood.

You clearly have no clue about plasma physics when you make a statement like: "it is the electric current which is pinching to create the star and the magnetic field, and is pulsing to create the emission".


Do you understand the Bennet Pinch? It's a magnetic effect, created by the current. Being you don't understand something as basic as electricity, I'm sure your understanding of plasma physics is in the same place.
no fate
3 / 5 (2) May 08, 2014
Ok, you stick to the basics you have figured out and I will stick to mine. You can keep your career posting about your understanding here, and maybe one day it will lead to a promotion (you may even get a bigger floppy tassel hat to wear as you cartwheel between threads spewing your wisdom) And I will continue doing what I do, which is be a small cog in the wheel of a team that compared to your understanding...have no idea what we are doing. Save for the functionality of what we build and our financial statement which some might mistake as a sign of success.

FYI - A plasma pinch isn't self stabilizing, and is never completely round in structure.

http://www.britan...h-effect

Although we all lack your incredible understanding that somehow trumps this experimentally proven fact, one day maybe we will get it.
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (4) May 09, 2014
FYI - A plasma pinch isn't self stabilizing, and is never completely round in structure.

Never claimed such things. Of course a pinch isn't stable, however that which takes fractions of a second to play out in the lab takes millions of years on a cosmic scale. When size is scaled, so too must be time.
As far as a round pinch, yep typically cylindrical due to the cylindrical Birkeland current feeding it. However, the plasmoid at the center of the instability can very well be perfectly round, electric forces dictate this, ball lightning is likely an example of a plasmoid.
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (3) May 10, 2014
And I will continue doing what I do, which is be a small cog in the wheel of a team

Janitor? Or should I say sanitation "engineer"?
ViperSRT3g
not rated yet May 16, 2014
Pardon my lack of understanding, but isn't lightning a form of plasma? Ionized air with a current traveling through it?