Millisecond pulsar took more than a millisecond for an intern to find

A team of US researchers, led by an intern, has found a millisecond pulsar in the massive stellar cluster GLIMPSE-CO1.

“It was exciting so early in my career to see a speculative project work out so successfully,” says Amaris McCarver, an intern at the US Naval Research Laboratory’s remote sensing division, and lead author on a paper published in The Astrophysical Journal.

Pulsars, or pulsating radio sources, are swiftly spinning neutron stars that emit beams of polarised light from their poles.

Because they spin, the Earth gets a regularly pulsing burst of light – like a lighthouse.

This makes them very useful for studying the cosmos, because any variations in their regular pulse can tell astronomers about gravitational waves and other harder-to-spot phenomena in the galaxy.

This pulsar has an interval of a few milliseconds, meaning it rotates extremely quickly. It’s the first millisecond pulsar found in the GLIMPSE-CO1 cluster.

Graph of pulsar
VLITE 340 MHz image of GLIMPSE-C01 from February 27, 2021. Credit: National Radio Astronomy Observatory/NRL/Texas Tech

“Millisecond pulsars, or MSPs, offer a promising method for autonomously navigating spacecraft from low Earth orbit to interstellar space, independent of ground contact and GPS availability,” says Dr Emil Polisensky, an astronomer at the Naval Research Labs (NRL).

McCarver and colleagues found the pulsar by examining images from the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array telescope – specifically, its Low-band Ionosphere and Transient Experiment, or VLITE.

They hunted through 97 stellar clusters to find the pulsar.

“The confirmation of a new MSP identified by Amaris highlights the exciting potential for discovery with NRL’s VLITE data and the key role student interns play in cutting edge research,” says Polisensky.

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