SITE VISITS: Cosmic Buzz

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Science  01 Sep 2000:
Vol. 289, Issue 5484, pp. 1427
DOI: 10.1126/science.289.5484.1427a

Considering that nobody can hear you scream in space, it's weird to think that there are cosmic objects that make sounds like a buzzing power line, a purring car engine, and a metronome. The noise sources are pulsars: compact, spinning stars discovered 33 years ago that emit bursts of radio waves much like flashes from a lighthouse. Radio astronomers both study inner workings of pulsars—over 1000 of which are now known—and use their ticking as a measuring device, for example, to make galactic maps.

A site at the University of California, Santa Cruz, offers an introduction on the history of pulsar studies. Other offerings include a database of references and a catalog of pulsar stats such as the year of discovery, mass, coordinates, and period of rotation. Also high in the bookmarks of experts is this German site, home of the European Pulsar Network, where radio astronomers share their raw data; nonexperts may enjoy the pulsar animations if they can unzip them. Princeton's site includes a space map of pulsars, software for analyzing emissions, and for students and other curious visitors, photos of a few radio telescopes such as the giant Arecibo dish in Puerto Rico. To hear actual pulsar radio signals, click on the sound bites at Princeton's site.

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