Telescope puts on ‘sunglasses’ to find the brightest pulsar in history

(ORDO NEWS) — An international research team, including scientists from Australia’s national science agency CSIRO, using a new observation technique, has discovered the brightest known extragalactic pulsar, which could be the brightest ever found.

First discovered in 1967, pulsars are the remnants of massive stars and offer researchers potential applications in areas such as random number generation and spacecraft guidance systems.

The research team used the ASKAP radio telescope, owned and operated by CSIRO, to apply a new method for searching for pulsars. Using an astronomical version of “sunglasses” to capture polarized light, they discovered a never-before-seen pulsar that is 10 times brighter than any other found outside of our galaxy.

CSIRO researcher Yuanming Wang is a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney and lead author of a study published in The Astrophysical Journal.

“It was an amazing surprise. I didn’t expect to find a new pulsar, much less the brightest one. But with the new telescopes we now have access to, like ASKAP and its sunglasses, it’s really possible,” Ms Wang said.

Professor Tara Murphy of the Sydney Institute of Astronomy at the University of Sydney is leading the team that saw the first hints of this unusual pulsar in ASKAP data and confirmed its existence with the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory’s MeerKAT radio telescope.

“It is to be expected that with this technique we will find more pulsars. For the first time, we have been able to conduct a systematic and regular search for the polarization of a pulsar. Due to its unusual properties, this pulsar was missed by previous studies, despite its brightness,” said Professor Murphy.

Professor Elaine Sadler, Chief Scientist at the Australian National Telescope Centre, CSIRO, which includes ASKAP and the other two telescopes used in the study, said it’s unbelievable that the first pulsar found with this technique is extreme.

This tells us what we can expect from our telescopes and researchers as they continually find new ways to answer some of our biggest questions. “From ATCA to ASKAP, the Australian National Telescope Facility continues to provide excellent access to our universe.” Professor Sadler said.

A pulsar is a rapidly rotating neutron star that emits two beams of polarized radio emission. As the rays sweep through space, they create a unique temporal and polarization signature.

Traditional pulsar-searching methods look for this scintillation in telescope data, but may miss pulsars that are too fast or too slow. If instead one looks for polarized light, one can find pulsars outside the standard time range.

Until now, a bright spot in the radio data has been taken as a distant galaxy.

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