‘What makes pulsars tick?’

Part of the Springer Praxis Books book series (PRAXIS)


The late astronomer David Allen once described in his beautiful style the most remarkable feature of pulsars: how fast they spin. Imagine, he once said, that you were looking at a pulsar spinning on a pedestal. Paint a mark on the side of the pulsar near its equator. Now ask yourself: how fast would I have to drive in a car to keep up with that mark if the pulsar was spinning once a minute? Given a diameter of 20 km or so, you would in fact have to drive at a speed of around 3,700 kilometers an hour. However, pulsars do not spin once a minute, he went on. The first ones discovered spin in just a few seconds and it would not be long before even faster ones were found. It is no wonder that astronomers found such a concept difficult to accept, and for a long time the idea of pulsars being a spinning phenomenon was not taken seriously at all. No, there had to be another explanation.


Neutron Star Radio Wave Radio Source White Dwarf Radio Telescope 
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  1. 1.
    The paper was published in the November 11th 1967 issue of Nature , but written about six months before the announcement by Hewish et al in February 1968.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    It should be mentioned that apparently Gold’s predictions were not unique. One astronomer I contacted said many were amazed when Gold received credit for the rotating neutron star model, since it ‘was a common piece of coffee time speculation’.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Manchester, D. ‘Pulsars at Parkes — Past and Present.’.Google Scholar

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© Praxis Publishing Ltd. 2008

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