SOLAR SYSTEM

Searching the solar system with pulsars

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Science  30 Mar 2018:
Vol. 359, Issue 6383, pp. 1481
DOI: 10.1126/science.359.6383.1481-a

Radio waves from pulsars can be used to detect objects in the solar system, such as Mars (shown).

PHOTO: NASA/JPL-CALTECH/MALIN SPACE SCIENCE SYSTEMS

Pulsar timing arrays (PTAs) monitor the arrival times of radio pulses from numerous pulsars to search for shifts caused by passing long-wavelength gravitational waves. Reaching the necessary level of precision requires correcting the data for small perturbations in Earth's orbit owing to the other planets in our solar system. Guo et al. have switched that process around: Instead of correcting for known planets, they show that PTAs can be used to search for undiscovered massive bodies in the solar system. Existing PTAs should be sufficient to recover the known planets and measure their masses, but more sensitive PTAs will be required to search the outer solar system for objects such as the proposed Planet Nine.

Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 475, 3644 (2018).

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