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How to use a pulsar to find Starbucks

Cosmic GPS would employ pulsing stars, not satellites, as celestial beacons

By
2:59pm, November 23, 2010

To find your favorite coffee shop in an unknown city, getting directions via satellite works like a charm. But that technology won’t get you from Earth to Jupiter.

So theorists have proposed a new type of positioning system based on stars instead of satellites. By receiving radio blips from pulsars, stars that emit radiation, a spacecraft above the atmosphere could figure out its place in space.

Unlike the Global Positioning System of satellites used in cars and smart phones, the pulsar positioning system wouldn’t need humans to make daily corrections.
“You could be on a spacecraft and you could be able to navigate without having any help from Earth,” says Angelo Tartaglia, a physicist at the Polytechnic University of Turin in Italy.

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