News FocusAstronomy

Pulsar Weather Map Shows Storms on a Strange World

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Science  05 Feb 1999:
Vol. 283, Issue 5403, pp. 783-784
DOI: 10.1126/science.283.5403.783

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Summary

Two radio astronomers, peering at the polar cap of a dead star 3000 light-years away, have put to shame the weather report graphics that show cold fronts and low-pressure zones rambling across the earthly continents. The spinning, collapsed star, called a pulsar, could easily fit within the city limits of Chicago, and the astronomers may have mapped as many as 20 individual "microstorms"--each probably an explosive hail of gamma rays and subatomic particles--circulating around a region of the cap that is no more than 400 meters across. The storms appear as transient, drifting flashes within the beam of radio waves that emanates from the pulsar's cap.