Nov 032009

I’ve refined my idea of what I’m trying to achieve with my astronomy posts.

I want to inspire awe, curiousity and child-like wonder!

Today I was reading about neutron stars. Now a neutron star is a dead star, thus doesn’t have any fuel to burn. It has about the mass of our sun and consists almost completely of neutrons! This means it has roughly the density of an atom nucleus = HUGE. So a neutron star with the mass of the sun but it’s only the 20km in diameter! whoa!

A pulsar is rotating neutron star with an incredibly strong magnetic field. The magnetic field’s poles are different from the rotation of the neutron star so the magnetic poles swing around like a lighthouse. One of the effects of the magnetic poles is light emission in radio frequencies a if the earth is within the sweep of the radio emmisions we detect a radio pulse, hence Pulsar!

So… a pulsar is a rotating neutron star. What’s so amazing about that? Well…nothing until you find out how fast some of them are spinning. To put things into perspective, the sun takes approximately 25 days to rotate, the earth takes 24 hours (86400 seconds), pulsars have ranges of 8.5 seconds to 0.0013s! Something weighing the sun, 16km big and spinning hundreds of times per second! Crazy. It’s kinda difficult to imagine a beasty like that so here is a link to some pulsar sounds from the Jodrell Bank Observatory. The surface speed of the fastest pulsar is about 70000km per seconds! No words…just smiles :)

This post was inspired because I found out recently that my dad has been working on the KAT-7 (Karoo Array Telescope) project. KAT-7 is a 7 dish prototype which will result in MeerKAT, which is an 80 dish array. MeerKAT is, hopefully, a precursor to the SKA (Square Kilometer Array) project in South Africa, which will have approximately 3000 dishes over 3000 kilometers and will be the most powerful radio telescope ever! He said that they were studying the Vela pulsar and some of it’s strange behaviour and this prompted me to find out more about pulsars.

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