Neutron Stars and Pulsars

Who first discovered a pulsar?

In the 1960s, an astronomy graduate student at Cambridge University named Jocelyn Susan Bell Burnell (1943–) and her faculty advisor Antony Hewish (1924–) used a large radio telescope in their research. The giant radio telescope consisted of scraggly looking antennae linked by wires, spread over a four-acre field, and was capable of detecting faint and rapidly changing energy signals and recording them on long rolls of paper. In 1967 Bell Burnell noticed some strange signals being recorded: periodic pulses of radio waves coming from specific locations in the sky. She found four pulsating sources; they were very mysterious because, prior to that time, the only recorded radio signals coming from space were continuous ones. Bell Burnell and Hewish hypothesized that these “pulsars” might be rapidly spinning white dwarf stars or neutron stars. The interpretation that they are neutron stars was eventually confirmed.


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