Introduction to Pulsars
This section will provide a basic introduction to what pulsars are and their history. It is important to read through these materials before coming to the ATNF to ensure you understand what you will actually be observing! For more information on pulsars we recommend these books:
- A. G. Lyne, F. Graham-Smith (1990) Pulsar Astronomy. Cambridge University Press
- R. N. Manchester, J. H. Taylor (1977) Pulsars. Freeman and Company
History of the Pulsar Discovery
Scientists saw the first glimpse of pulsars in 1967. Jocelyn Bell and Antony Hewish of Cambridge University had noticed strange and sporadic, clock like radio pulses in their data. Although they were initially unsure of how to interpret the signal, they soon found three more similar sources, and concluded it had to be natural phenomenon. Hewish and Bell published their results in early 1968, after which there was a torrent of published scientific interest in to the nature of pulsars, and what they might possibly be. Before the end of the year, another dozen pulsars had been observed, all with similar characteristics to the original. Many subsequent discoveries followed, of which one of the most significant would be that of the Crab Nebula pulsar. Radio pulses were observed from near the centre of the Crab Nebula. Astronomers searched in the optical images to try and find an object matching the radio signals. Researchers at the Steward Observatory in Arizona found an object pulsing in the optical with a period equal to that of the radio pulsar. It was also identified as a remnant of the supernova explosion observed by Baade and Minkowski in 1942. This particular discovery helped make the link between pulsars, neutron stars and supernova remnants.