Pinning down a pulsar’s age | Science News

ADVERTISEMENT

REAL SCIENCE. REAL NEWS.

Help us keep you informed.

Support Science News.


News

Pinning down a pulsar’s age

New calculations revise estimates by a factor of 10

By
7:59pm, June 9, 2009

PASADENA, Calif. — Dating millisecond pulsars is like trying to guess the age of a patient by listening to his heartbeat. 

These compact stellar remnants spin hundreds of times a second — gaining speed over time by pulling in material from a companion star — and emit beams of radio waves that sweep past Earth like a lighthouse beacon. The period between each radio pulse and the rate at which those pulses slow have been the only clues astronomers have had to estimate the age of one of these whirling dervishes. And sometimes estimates have been ludicrously off the mark, with pulsars labeled as older than the galaxies in which they reside.

Now, astronomers Bülent Kiziltan and Stephen Thorsett of the University of California, Santa Cruz, have come up with a more accurate way to peg the ages of millisecond pulsars, they report June 8 at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society. By including in their model previously ignored features such

This article is only available to Science News subscribers. Already a subscriber? Log in now. Or subscribe today for full access.

Get Science News headlines by e-mail.

More from Science News

From the Nature Index Paid Content