Special Reviews

Pulsars in Binary Systems: Probing Binary Stellar Evolution and General Relativity

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Science  23 Apr 2004:
Vol. 304, Issue 5670, pp. 547-552
DOI: 10.1126/science.1096986

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Radio pulsars in binary orbits often have short millisecond spin periods as a result of mass transfer from their companion stars. They therefore act as very precise, stable, moving clocks that allow us to investigate a large set of otherwise inaccessible astrophysical problems. The orbital parameters derived from high-precision binary pulsar timing provide constraints on binary evolution, characteristics of the binary pulsar population, and the masses of neutron stars with different mass-transfer histories. These binary systems also test gravitational theories, setting strong limits on deviations from general relativity. Surveys for new pulsars yield new binary systems that increase our understanding of all these fields and may open up whole new areas of physics, as most spectacularly evidenced by the recent discovery of an extremely relativistic double-pulsar system.

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