Chinese scientists have discovered six new pulsar stars in the Milky Way using the 500-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST), the world’s largest radio telescope.
One of the pulsars is estimated to be 16,000 light years away, rotating at a speed of 1.83 seconds, while another is thought to be about 4,100 light years away, spinning at 0.59 of a second.
A pulsar is a highly magnetized, rotating neutron star, that emits two beams of electromagnetic radiation. This radiation can be observed only when the beam of emission is pointing at Earth, in much the same way as a lighthouse can be seen only when the light is pointed at an observer. Pulsars remain an enigma. When the first one was discovered, it was mistaken for a signal from aliens.
British astronomers Jocelyn Bell Burnell and Antony Hewish discovered the first pulsar on November 28, 1967. They nicknamed the strange signal LGM-1, for “little green men.” It was not until a second pulsating source was found in a different part of the sky that the “LGM hypothesis” was abandoned.
Scientists have identified more than 2,000 pulsars. The Milky Way is thought to have around 100 million of them, based on an estimate of the number of stars that have undergone supernova explosions.
With their intense gravitational and electromagnetic fields and high density, pulsars are regarded as natural laboratories of extreme physical conditions.
For instance, the magnetic field on the surface of a neutron star is at least a million times of that which is created in the most advanced laboratory. Neutron stars might also be particle accelerators with the highest energy in the known universe.
Scientists could study many phenomena that they cannot replicate on Earth by observing neutron stars.