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Spaceships could use blinking dead stars to chart their way

Like GPS satellites, pulsars could help ships pinpoint their place in space

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5:15pm, January 12, 2018
illustration of SEXTANT

SPACE PLACE  NASA’s SEXTANT experiment demonstrated a stellar version of GPS, finding the experiment’s location with an apparatus consisting of 52 X-ray telescopes (illustrated) on the International Space Station.

OXON HILL, Md. — Future spacecraft could navigate by the light of dead stars.

Using only the timing of radiation bursts from pulsating stellar corpses, an experiment on the International Space Station was able to pinpoint its location in space in a first-ever demonstration. The technique operates like a stellar version of GPS, researchers with the Station Explorer for X-ray Timing and Navigation Technology experiment, SEXTANT, reported at a news conference January 11 during a meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

Known as pulsars, the dead stars emit beams of radiation that sweep past Earth at regular intervals, like the rotating beams from a lighthouse. Those radiation blips could allow a spaceship to find its location in space (SN: 12/18/10, p. 11). It’s similar to how GPS uses the

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