The conditions for life throughout the Universe are so plentiful that it seems reasonable to presume there must be extra-terrestrial civilizations in the galaxy. But if that’s true, where are they? The Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) program and others have long sought to find signals from these civilizations, but so far there has been nothing conclusive. Part of the challenge is that we don’t know what the nature of an alien signal might be. It’s a bit like finding a needle in a haystack when you don’t know what the needle looks like. Fortunately, any alien civilization would still be bound by the same physical laws we are, and we can use that to consider what might be possible. One way to better our odds of finding something would be to focus not on a direct signal from a single world, but the broader echos of an interstellar network of signals.Continue reading “We Could Snoop on Extraterrestrial Communications Networks”
About 40,000 light-years away, a rapidly spinning object has a companion that’s confounding astronomers. It’s heavier than the heaviest neutron stars, yet at the same time, it’s lighter than the lightest black holes. Measurements place it in the so-called black hole mass gap, an observed gap in the stellar population between two to five solar masses. There appear to be no neutron stars larger than two solar masses and no black holes smaller than five solar masses.Continue reading “Is this the Lightest Black Hole or Heaviest Neutron Star?”
The surface gravity of a neutron star is so incredibly intense that it can cause atoms to collapse into a dense cluster of neutrons. The interiors of neutron stars may be dense enough to allow quarks to escape the bounds of nuclei. So it’s hard to imagine neutron stars as active bodies, with tectonic crusts and perhaps even mountains. But we have evidence to support this idea, and we could learn even more through gravitational waves.Continue reading “Do Neutron Stars Have Mountains? Gravitational Wave Observatories Could Detect Them”
Pulsars are extreme objects. They’re what’s left over when a massive star collapses on itself and explodes as a supernova. This creates a neutron star. Neutron stars spin, and some of them emit radiation. When they emit radiation from their poles that we can see, we call them pulsars.Continue reading “Spider Pulsars are Tearing Apart Stars in the Omega Cluster”
Ah, dark matter particles, what could you be? The answer still eludes us, and astronomers keep trying new ideas to find them. Such as a new paper in Physical Review Letters that suggests if dark matter is made of axions we might see their remnant glow near pulsars.Continue reading “Are Pulsars the Key to Finding Dark Matter?”
Pulsars are the lighthouses of the universe. These rotating dead stars shoot twin jets of radiation from their poles, usually with a predictable rhythm. But sometimes pulsars behave strangely, and one pulsar in particular has had astronomers scratching their heads for years. It’s called PSR J1023+0038, and a decade ago, it shut off its jets and began oscillating between two brightness levels in an unpredictable pattern. Now, scientists think they understand why: it is busy eating a neighboring star.Continue reading “A Bizarre Pulsar Switches Between Two Brightness Modes. Astronomers Finally Figured Out Why.”
Millisecond pulsars are amazing astronomical tools. They are fast-rotating neutron stars that sweep beams of radio energy from their magnetic poles, and when they are aligned just right we see them as rapidly flashing radio beacons. They flash with such regularity that we can treat them as cosmic clocks. Any change in their motion can be measured with extreme precision. Astronomers have used millisecond pulsars to measure their orbital decay due to gravitational waves and to observe the background gravitational rumblings of the universe. They have even been proposed as a method of celestial navigation. They may soon also be able to test the most fundamental nature of gravity.Continue reading “Astronomers are Hoping the Event Horizon Telescope saw Pulsars Near the Milky Way's Supermassive Black Hole”
The Theory of General Relativity (GR), proposed by Einstein over a century ago, remains one of the most well-known scientific postulates of all time. This theory, which explains how spacetime curvature is altered in the presence of massive objects, remains the cornerstone of our most widely-accepted cosmological models. This should come as no surprise since GR has been verified nine ways from Sunday and under the most extreme conditions imaginable. In particular, scientists have mounted several observation campaigns to test GR using Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*), the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way.
Last year, the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) – an international consortium of astronomers and observatories – announced they had taken the first images of Sag A*, which came just two years after the release of the first-ever images of an SMBH (M87). In 2014, the European members of the EHT launched another initiative known as BlackHoleCam to gain a better understanding of SMBHs using a combination of radio imaging, pulsar observations, astrometry, and GR. In a recent paper, the BHC initiative described how they tested GR by observing pulsars orbiting Sgr A*.Continue reading “Pulsars Could Help Map the Black Hole at the Center of the Milky Way”
If you want to know where you are in space, you’d better bring along a map. But it’s a little more complicated than riding shotgun on a family road trip.
Spacecraft navigation beyond Earth orbit is usually carried out by mission control. A series of radio communication arrays across the planet, known as the Deep Space Network, allows operators to check in with space probes and update their navigational status. The system works, but it could be better. What if a spacecraft could autonomously determine its position, without needing to phone home? That’s been a dream of aerospace engineers for a long time, and it’s getting close to fruition.
Pulsars are the key.Continue reading “Soon Every Spacecraft can Navigate the Solar System Autonomously Using Pulsars”
Despite everything astronomers have learned about the nature and structure of galaxies, there are still mysteries about the Milky Way. The reason for this is simple: since we are embedded in the Milky Way’s disk, we have difficulty mapping it and observing it as a whole. It’s also very challenging to observe the center of the galaxy, what lies beyond it, and features in the disk itself because of all the gas and dust between stars- the Interstellar Medium (ISM). However, by observing the Milky Way in the non-visible spectrum (radio, x-ray, gamma-ray, etc.), astronomers can see more of what’s out there.
There’s also the spectral line that corresponds to the emission frequency (1420 MHz) of cold neutral hydrogen gas (HI), which makes up the majority of the ISM. Using the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) – the most powerful radio telescope in the world near Guizhou, China – a team of scientists located more than 500 new faint pulsars. During the survey, the team simultaneously recorded the spectral line data with high spectral and spatial resolution, making it an extremely valuable resource for studying the structure of the Milky Way Galaxy and the life cycle of its stars.Continue reading “Astronomers use the World's Biggest Radio Telescope to map new Features of the Milky Way”