Imagine… After millions of years of nuclear fusion, a massive star depletes its core of hydrogen and helium. With no outward pressure to hold it up, gravity wins, and the star collapses. The outer layers rebound from the core and are expelled into space in a giant supernova explosion. But, what of the core?? It continues to collapse into a neutron star… an object with the mass of our Sun, yet only 20 kilometers in diameter.
Some neutron stars–those we can detect–are called pulsars. Pulsars are incredible! Unlike our Sun which spins once every 25 days or so, pulsars can spin up to 800 times/second! They have magnetic fields 10,000,000,000 times stronger than a fridge magnet!
Want to discover new pulsars? This pulsar candidate search tool (PSRsearch) can be used by students, teachers and scientists alike.
The Pulsar Science Collaboratory
The Pulsar Science Collaboratory runs an out-of-school-time citizen science project for students aged 13 and up. After training, PSC students and teachers gain access to radio astronomy data collected by the Green Bank Telescope, the world’s first fully steerable radio telescope. PSC members then analyze the data to search for new pulsars.
Finding a pulsar is a significant scientific discovery, which advances our knowledge of the Universe! To date, PSC students have analyzed more than 2,000,000 pieces of data, discovered 8 new pulsars, have been authors on scientific publications, and were congratulated in person by President Obama!
For students. PSC students participate in an online course that teaches them about pulsar science and radio astronomy and prepares them to become competent researchers. The course is led by world renowned astronomers Dr. Maura McLaughlin and Duncan Lorimer. Once trained, PSC students gain access to radio astronomy data taken at the giant Green Bank Telescope.
If you are interested searching for pulsars as part of a classroom based citizen science team, start here: Becoming a search team member
For teachers. PSC students and teachers participate in an online course that teaches them about pulsar science and radio astronomy. The course is led by world renowned West Virginia University radio astronomers Dr. Maura McLaughlin and Dr. Duncan Lorimer. Once trained, PSC students (and you if you wish) gain access to radio astronomy data taken at the Green Bank Telescope. The data is reserved for PSC students and will not be analyzed by other scientists so any pulsar found is a significant scientific discovery. A sample of the data is available here. By participating, your students gain training in astronomy and data analysis from experts in pulsar astronomy. They participate in authentic scientific research with the possibility of making publishable scientific discoveries. They will have the opportunity to interact with leading scientists and discuss their research with both scientists and other students. They may have the opportunity to present their research at a Capstone event at a local university. Students and teachers will also have the opportunity to apply to spend a week extending their research experience at a summer camp at the GBT.
If you are interested in leading a team searching for pulsars, start here: Becoming a search team leader
For scientists. In addition to the PSC students and teachers, scientists may join and search additional surveys for pulsar candidates. If you are interested in searching for pulsars as as an astronomer, start here: Using for research
For survey owners. If you have a project with compatible pulsar survey data you may be able to add it to the PSRsearch database and make it available to some or all PSC members. If you are interested in using this project to help search your pulsar survey data, start here: Adding your survey data