Research Article

Switched Magnetospheric Regulation of Pulsar Spin-Down

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Science  23 Jul 2010:
Vol. 329, Issue 5990, pp. 408-412
DOI: 10.1126/science.1186683

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Pulsar Clocks

Pulsars are rotating neutron stars whose rotation rates can be extremely stable, sometimes rivaling the precision atomic clock. Unfortunately, not all pulsars are this precise—most show irregularities in their rotation rates. Using a large data set collected over many years at Jodrell Bank in the United Kingdom, Lyne et al. (p. 408, published online 24 June) show that the rotation of pulsars is not modulated by a single spin-down rate but typically by two, each accompanied by a unique pulse profile. The irregularities are linked to abrupt quasiperiodic changes in the pulsar's magnetosphere, observed as changes in pulse shape and spin-down rate. Thus, it may be possible to use pulse-shape information to improve the precision of pulsars as stable clocks that can be used as probes of gravitational physics.