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50 Years Ago

50 years ago, pulsars burst onto the scene

Excerpt from the March 16, 1968 issue of Science News

By
7:00am, March 8, 2018
pulsar illustration

LIKE CLOCKWORK  Scientists reported the first discovery of a pulsar 50 years ago. The rapidly rotating neutron stars emit beams of radiation (illustrated), which sweep past Earth at regular intervals.

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The strangest signals reaching Earth

The search for neutron stars has intensified because of a relatively small area, low in the northern midnight sky, from which the strangest radio signals yet received on Earth are being detected. If the signals come from a star, the source broadcasting the radio waves is very likely the first neutron star ever detected. — Science News, March 16, 1968

Update

That first known neutron star’s odd pulsating signature earned it the name “pulsar.” The finding garnered a Nobel Prize just six years after its 1968 announcement — although one of the pulsar’s discoverers, astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell, was famously excluded. Since then, astronomers have found thousands of these blinking collapsed stars, which have confirmed Einstein’s theory of gravity and have been proposed as a kind of GPS for spacecraft (SN: 2/3/18, p. 7).

Citations

The Strangest Signals Reaching Earth. Science News. Vol. 93, March 16, 1968, p. 255

A. Hewish et al. Observation of a Rapidly Pulsating Radio Source. Nature. Vol. 217, February 24, 1968, p. 709. doi:10.1038/217709a0.

Further Reading

E. Conover. Trio of dead stars upholds a key part of Einstein’s theory of gravity. Science News. Vol. 193, February 3, 2018, p. 7.

E. Conover. Spaceships could use blinking dead stars to chart their way. Science News. Vol. 193, February 3, 2018, p. 7.

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