Pulsar Astrophysics at Jodrell Bank: Rolling Grant 2009-2014

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Physics and Astronomy

Abstract

Radio pulsars are very compact, rotating, massive and dense stars, consisting mainly of neutrons, that emit a radio beam along their magnetic axis. They are what remains when a star about eight times heavier than our Sun runs out of fuel and undergoes a catastrophic collapse that results in a supernova. The immense pressure during that collapse squashes matter slightly heavier than our Sun into a sphere of just 10 kilometre in radius, converting the matter into neutrons. As the pulsar rotates, the narrow radio beam sweeps across the Earth and we detect a pulse of radiation, much like a cosmic version of a lighthouse, and hence the name pulsar. The extreme density, equivalent to fitting the entire Earth into a golf-ball, means that pulsars rotate very stably. Each pulse is like a tick from a clock which has an accuracy which rivals that of the best atomic clocks on Earth. We can use this clock-like nature of pulsars to perform incredible experiments on gravity which are only possible with pulsars. For example, if a pulsar is in a binary system with another star, then Einstein's theory of General Relativity predicts that the time that it will take the two stars to orbit each other will decrease with time due to the emission of gravitational waves. The predicted decrease in the orbital period was first measured by Hulse & Taylor using pulsars, for which they were awarded the Noble Prize in Physics in 1993. This was strong proof that Einstein's theory was correct but this was only indirect evidence for the existence of gravitational waves, a direct detection has not yet been made. Representing objects with the largest matter density in the observable Universe, pulsars also have extremely large magnetic fields, about 30 million times that of the strongest magnetic we can produce on Earth. It is in these magnetic fields that the radio emission is generated which is seen as the accurate pulses. How this process works tests the limits of our physical understanding and allows us to measure the properties of matter and plasma in environments which are impossible to recreate in a laboratory. In order to be able to perform all of these exciting studies, we first have to find sufficient numbers, and the right sort, of pulsars on which to do these experiments. Our group is the world's most successful one in finding radio pulsars but even more extreme objects are still to be found. In order to find these missing jewels, we are planning to use some of the largest telescopes in the world, together with a very large computer and sophisticated software that we have developed. We expect to find about 1000 new pulsars! We also continue to use the currently best known objects to test Einstein's theory of gravity. This includes timing the unique Double Pulsar, which we discovered in 2003. In this object, two pulsars orbit each other in less than 2.5 hours, moving with speeds of 1 million km/h. Using it, we have tested Einstein to be correct at least the 99.95% level. To directly detect gravitational waves for the first time, we are planning a unique experiment to measure the arrival time of pulses from pulsars with the highest precision yet achieved. This requires us to record and combine the signals of the 5 largest telescopes in Europe to form an enormous dish equivalent to the largest in the world. An important factor in our research is the possibility to use the Lovell telescope. As one of the greatest pulsar telescopes in the world, we track the rotation of more than 600 pulsars, leading to many unexpected and exciting results about neutron star properties, dense matter and even the events during the collapse of a massive star. All of our proposed experiments require cutting edge bespoke technology much of which we develop ourselves. This state-of-the art software and hardware proposed in this grant allows us to perform these incredibly precise measurements of these extreme objects.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description The main areas where our research has been used outside of academia is in the area of cultural impact. This has concentrated in the areas that are described through our outputs such as: Press releases, public websites, presentations to public groups, including schools, through our contributions to the University of Manchester's Discovery Centre. This outreach program is centred around the Jodrell Bank Observatory and its iconic Lovell Telescope and has impact UK-wide. We specialize in making our science accessible to "hard to reach" target audiences. Regular events are organized on site , ranging from core astronomy to music festivals (e.g. www.jodrellbanklive.co.uk). The BBC's Stargazing Live attracted 3.5 million viewers on each of three nights. The new Discovery Centre which opened to the public in April 2011 attracts 125,000 visitors annually. Our research has also recently caught the attention of a defence company who recognise us as an important resource for understanding how one might use pulsars for navigation or position determination in extreme circumstances.
First Year Of Impact 2009
Sector Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Education,Other
Impact Types Cultural,Economic

 
Title Glitch Table 
Description We provide a database of all the glitches detected in radio pulsars, this is the largest database in existence and is constantly updated with our own results and those from the literature. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2011 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The database has been used in a number of publications. 
URL http://www.jb.man.ac.uk/pulsar/glitches/gTable.html
 
Description EPTA 
Organisation ASTRON Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy
Country Netherlands 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution We have provided data and expertise.
Collaborator Contribution Knowledge exchange and data
Impact More than 12 papers have already been published, including the best ever limit on the presence of stochastic background of gravitational waves at frequencies of a few nanoHertz.
Start Year 2008
 
Description EPTA 
Organisation Max Planck Society
Department Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy
Country Germany 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution We have provided data and expertise.
Collaborator Contribution Knowledge exchange and data
Impact More than 12 papers have already been published, including the best ever limit on the presence of stochastic background of gravitational waves at frequencies of a few nanoHertz.
Start Year 2008
 
Description EPTA 
Organisation National Center for Scientific Research (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique CNRS)
Country France 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution We have provided data and expertise.
Collaborator Contribution Knowledge exchange and data
Impact More than 12 papers have already been published, including the best ever limit on the presence of stochastic background of gravitational waves at frequencies of a few nanoHertz.
Start Year 2008
 
Description EPTA 
Organisation National Institute for Astrophysics
Country Italy 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We have provided data and expertise.
Collaborator Contribution Knowledge exchange and data
Impact More than 12 papers have already been published, including the best ever limit on the presence of stochastic background of gravitational waves at frequencies of a few nanoHertz.
Start Year 2008
 
Description High Time Resolution Universe - North 
Organisation Australia Telescope National Facility
Country Australia 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution We have provided expertise, personnel and computing resources
Collaborator Contribution Computing Facilities, expertise
Impact None yet as this collaboration has only just started acquiring data and is a long term project
Start Year 2009
 
Description High Time Resolution Universe - North 
Organisation Max Planck Society
Department Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics
Country Germany 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution We have provided expertise, personnel and computing resources
Collaborator Contribution Computing Facilities, expertise
Impact None yet as this collaboration has only just started acquiring data and is a long term project
Start Year 2009
 
Description High Time Resolution Universe - North 
Organisation Max Planck Society
Department Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy
Country Germany 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution We have provided expertise, personnel and computing resources
Collaborator Contribution Computing Facilities, expertise
Impact None yet as this collaboration has only just started acquiring data and is a long term project
Start Year 2009
 
Description High Time Resolution Universe - South 
Organisation Australia Telescope National Facility
Country Australia 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution We have provided training, manpower, expertise and facilities
Impact This has resulted in 2 published papers, 2 in press and 4 presently in preparation.
Start Year 2007
 
Description High Time Resolution Universe - South 
Organisation Max Planck Society
Department Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy
Country Germany 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution We have provided training, manpower, expertise and facilities
Impact This has resulted in 2 published papers, 2 in press and 4 presently in preparation.
Start Year 2007
 
Description High Time Resolution Universe - South 
Organisation National Institute for Astrophysics
Country Italy 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We have provided training, manpower, expertise and facilities
Impact This has resulted in 2 published papers, 2 in press and 4 presently in preparation.
Start Year 2007
 
Description High Time Resolution Universe - South 
Organisation Swinburne University of Technology
Department Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing
Country Australia 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We have provided training, manpower, expertise and facilities
Impact This has resulted in 2 published papers, 2 in press and 4 presently in preparation.
Start Year 2007
 
Description LOFAR 
Organisation ASTRON Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy
Country Netherlands 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution We contribute to the science, observations and data reduction but we also supply technical expertise.
Collaborator Contribution Our partners provide science, observing support, data analysis and technical expertise.
Impact The major outcomes of this collaboration are research papers as indicated in the relevant sections above.
 
Description LOFAR 
Organisation Max Planck Society
Department Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy
Country Germany 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution We contribute to the science, observations and data reduction but we also supply technical expertise.
Collaborator Contribution Our partners provide science, observing support, data analysis and technical expertise.
Impact The major outcomes of this collaboration are research papers as indicated in the relevant sections above.
 
Description LOFAR 
Organisation University of Amsterdam
Country Netherlands 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We contribute to the science, observations and data reduction but we also supply technical expertise.
Collaborator Contribution Our partners provide science, observing support, data analysis and technical expertise.
Impact The major outcomes of this collaboration are research papers as indicated in the relevant sections above.
 
Description LOFAR 
Organisation University of Oxford
Department Department of Physics
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We contribute to the science, observations and data reduction but we also supply technical expertise.
Collaborator Contribution Our partners provide science, observing support, data analysis and technical expertise.
Impact The major outcomes of this collaboration are research papers as indicated in the relevant sections above.
 
Description LOFAR 
Organisation University of Southampton
Department Physics and Astronomy
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We contribute to the science, observations and data reduction but we also supply technical expertise.
Collaborator Contribution Our partners provide science, observing support, data analysis and technical expertise.
Impact The major outcomes of this collaboration are research papers as indicated in the relevant sections above.
 
Description AAA Bonn 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Amateur Astronomer Association, Bonn, 24 June 2009, Fundamental physics with astronomy presentation with interesting discussion afterwards.

NA
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009
 
Description BA Festival of Science 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Talk at the BA Festival of Science. "From rhythm to music: The cosmic concert of pulsars"

Interaction with the public. Increased interest in pulsars and in particular the applications.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009
 
Description British Amateur Astronomy Society 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Type Of Presentation Keynote/Invited Speaker
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact 80 people attended the talk, a couple have continued to be in contact, and one attended as a summer intern in 2012

Impact was a greater awareness of the UK's involvement in the next generation of radio telescopes.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description Discovery Center 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We co-designed exhibits of our work for the Discovery Centre at Jodrell Bank Observatory. We also give regular presentations to the Ask an expert group and give talks and presentations at the frequent public events.

There is a significant increase in the awareness of the research that is being undertaken in our group. The public have become aware of the importance of this field of research and how it can relate to the big problems in physics.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010,2011,2012,2013
 
Description Jodcast 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We contributed either with content, or in the creation of pieces for the Jodcast, an astronomical podcast.

Increased awareness of astronomy in general and of our work in particular.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009,2010,2011,2012,2013
URL http://www.jodcast.net/
 
Description Knutsford SciBar 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Presentation on research area to members of the public interested in science followed by excellent discussion.

Requests for further presentations.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description Live Data Tool 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We developed a website that showed our observations live in real time on the internet for assisting the public have a better view of what the Lovell telescope is doing. We also used it during the StarGazing live events.

Many visitors to our website.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010,2011,2012,2013
 
Description Press Releases 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We regularly write press releases on our work, at least once per year to inform the media and public of our work, recent examples include:
LOFAR takes the pulse of the universe, The first pulsar discovered by volunteer computing, Switched Magnetosphere regulation of pulsar spin down. The Diamond Planet, Discovery of Fast Radio Bursts.

These press releases often result in interviews with media and contact from the public with interest about the work we are doing.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2006,2007,2008,2009,2010
 
Description S&T Double Pulsar 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Wrote an article for Sky and Telescope Magazine (note that only newspapers was an option below in 5.9) about the double pulsar system.

Research was disseminated to a wider audience.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009
 
Description Schools Presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Gave presentations over 3 days to more than 500 A-level school kids. Included a discussion.

None as yet, but too recent.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010,2011,2012