Pulsars are the compact remnants from explosions of massive stars. Some of them spin around their own axis hundreds of times per second, emitting beams of radiation into space. Until now, they could only be found through their pulsed radio emissions. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Hanover invented a new method for detecting pulsars and have discovered a millisecond pulsar only by its pulsed gamma radiation.
In 1994 astronomers discovered a gamma-ray source in the constellation of Centaurus.
Although they suspected that a pulsar was the origin of the energetic radiation, they could not confirm that theory. Now, using the new method, scientists have positively identified the gamma ray source as the millisecond pulsar PSR J1311-3430. Using this new method, scientist can now identify rapidly spinning pulsars that have to this point been extremely difficult to find.
“We developed a particularly efficient method to search the data from NASA’s Fermi satellite for gamma-ray millisecond pulsars, including those in binary systems. Only this method enabled us to probe the wide parameter ranges,” says Holger Pletsch, lead author of the article published in Science. The new analysis method enables scientists to conduct a ‘blind search’ for gamma-ray millisecond pulsars for the first time.
PSR J1311-3430 spins 390 times per second, emitting gamma-ray photons into space in the form of a beam, similar to a lighthouse. In roughly one in a million revolutions of the pulsar, a single photon reaches the detector on board Fermi.
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