A new pulsar has been discovered with images from the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) telescope, a low-frequency radio telescope located in rural Western Australia. The puslar is the first to be detected with the MWA, but according to scientists at Curtin University, there are likely to be more similar discoveries in the near future. That’s because the MWA is the lead-up to an even more advanced telescope in the words called the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).
"Pulsars are born as a result of supernovae--when a massive star explodes and dies, it can leave behind a collapsed core known as a neutron star," explains Nick Swainston, a PhD student at the Curtin University campus of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR), who detected the pulsar during his work at the center. "They're about one and a half times the mass of the Sun, but all squeezed within only 20 kilometres, and they have ultra-strong magnetic fields."
Pulsars are dense, highly magnetized spinning stars that release beams of electromagnetic radiation out of its magnetic poles, which can then be observed as a beam of emission is pointing toward Earth. "Every time that emission sweeps across our line of sight, we see a pulse--that's why we call them pulsars," elaborates Swainston. "You can imagine it like a giant cosmic lighthouse."
The newly detected pulsar spins particularly fast compared to stars and planets, notes ICRAR-Curtin astronomer Dr Ramesh Bhat, at a rate of approximately one spin per second. According to the researchers, the pulsar is located about 3000 light-years from Earth.
Pulsars allow astrophysicists to conduct simulations on the laws of physics under conditions different than those on Earth. "A spoonful of material from a neutron star would weigh millions of tonnes," Dr. Bhat comments. "Their magnetic fields are some of the strongest in the Universe--about 1000 billion times stronger than that we have on Earth. So we can use them to do physics that we can't do in any of the Earth-based laboratories."
The team anticipates more discoveries of the like are on the horizon for the Southern Hemisphere. "This finding is really exciting because the data processing is incredibly challenging, and the results show the potential for us to discover many more pulsars with the MWA and the low-frequency part of the SKA. The study of pulsars is one of the headline areas of science for the multi-billion-dollar SKA, so it is great that our team is at the forefront of this work," concludes MWA Director Professor Steven Tingay.