Pulsars are fast-spinning neutron stars that fires off powerful beacons of light. Image credit: NASA
An international team of scientists studying what amounts to a computer-simulated “pulsar in a box” are gaining a more detailed understanding of the complex, high-energy environment around spinning neutron stars, also called pulsars. The model traces the paths of charged particles in magnetic and electric fields near the neutron star, revealing behaviours that may help explain how pulsars emit gamma-ray and radio pulses with ultraprecise timing.
“Efforts to understand how pulsars do what they do began as soon as they were discovered in 1967, and we’re still working on it,” says Gabriele Brambilla, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, United States, and the University of Milan, Italy, who led a study of the recent simulation. “Even with the computational power available today, tracking the physics of particles in the extreme environment of a pulsar is a considerable challenge.”
A pulsar is the crushed core of a massive star that ran out of fuel, collapsed under its own weight and exploded as a supernova. Gravity forces more mass than the Sun’s into a ball no wider than Manhattan Island in ...