Pulsars are spinning neutron stars: the cores of dead stars that are left behind following a supernova explosion. These objects spin up to 900 times per second and have about twice the mass of the Sun packed into a radius of just 20 kilometres. As they spin, beams of radiation from their magnetic poles sweep over the Earth and they appear to pulse on and off. This pulsing is so regular that we can use these objects to keep time to an accuracy comparable to that of atomic clocks – a property that allows for some tests of extreme physics not possible in Earth-based laboratories.
Our research uses the most sensitive radio telescopes in the world in experiments that use pulsars as precision tools for mapping structures in interstellar space and as a giant galaxy-scale gravitational wave detector. We are also interested in the rare ‘giant pulses’ emission mechanism exhibited by a small number of pulsars.
We are part of collaborations all over the world including the North American Nano-Hertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves (NANOGrav), the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity-Mapping Experiment (CHIME), the European Pulsar Timing Array (EPTA), the International Pulsar Timing Array (IPTA), the Large European Array for Pulsars (LEAP), and the French extension to the pan-European LOFAR telescope (NenuFAR).
Staff: James McKee
Students: Georgia Lowes
Image: The distortion of space-time around the ‘double pulsar’ binary system; a unique laboratory for carrying out some of the most sensitive tests of gravity theories to date. Credit: M. Kramer/ Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy.