About a dozen of known pulsars are capable of producing giant radio pulses that are many times more powerful than the regular sounds of similar pulsars. We still don’t know what causes this but thanks to detailed observations we know at least know how powerful these radio screams truly are.
Credit: Optical: NASA/HST/ASU/J. Hester et al. X-Ray: NASA/CXC/ASU/J. Hester et al.
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Pulsars are wildly rotating neutron stars created by spectacular supernova explosions. Thanks to their insane rotations they are wildly blinking at us in the radio-wave, visible, x-ray, and gamma-ray parts of the electromagnetic spectrum. We know about almost 3,000 pulsars. But only a handful of them sometimes fire of a giant radio pulse. These things truly deserve their names. While being extremely short they are many times more powerful bursts of energetic radio waves than the typical radio pulses blinking at us from pulsars.
One of the few pulsars capable of producing giant radio pulses is PSR B0531+21 better known as the Crab Pulsar. This pulsar was created in the heat of a supernova explosion that humanity got to observe in 1054 and now it rules the Crab Nebula. While it is small, the neutron star is just 25 kilometers in diameter but it rotates at an insane speed of one rotation per 33 milliseconds. From our point of view, it is located in the Taurus constellation and it is one of the brightest pulsars visible in the x-ray and radio-wave part of the spectrum.
Teruaki Enota from the Japenese institute RIKEN and his team analyzed the so far largest amount of x-ray and radio data that was so far gathered from a single pulsar in a single time frame.
The data came from the American space x-ray telescope NICER and always from at least one of two Japanese terrestrial telescopes. Either from the 34-meter telescope in the Kashima Space Technology Center or the 64-meter telescope at the Usuda Deep Space Center and the observations took place between August of 2017 and August of 2019.
These observations created concurrent x-ray and radio-wave data that cover almost a day and a half of the life of the Crab Pulsar. While that might not sound as much it covers about 3,700,000 revolutions of the pulsar and roughly 26,000 giant radio pulses. And they come completely out of the blue. In a millionth of a second, a gigantic peak of radio noise happens and then just as quickly disappears.
The researchers analyzed the data and derived the energy the giant radio pulses carry. In the end, the came to the conclusion that these bursts are up to several hundred times more powerful than we thought. And we already thought they were truly powerful as experts estimated they are a hundred to thousand times more powerful than standard radio pulses.
What is obvious: We still don’t understand pulsars very well. We don’t know how they create their specific radio radiation. Nor do we know how they create giant radio pulses. But every piece of data is a piece of the puzzle. Now we just have to finish it.
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