Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

"Fix" for Cosmic Clocks

Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

"Fix" for Cosmic Clocks

Article excerpt

An international team of scientists have developed a promising new technique that could turn pulsars--superb natural cosmic clocks--into even more accurate timekeepers. This important advance, led by scientists at the University of Manchester, could improve the search for gravitational waves and help studies into the origins of the universe. The direct discovery of gravitational waves, which pass over cosmic clocks and cause them to change, could allow scientists to study violent events such as the merging of super-massive black holes and help them understand the universe shortly after its formation in the Big Bang.

The scientists made their breakthrough using decades-long observations from a radio telescope to track the radio signals of extreme stars known as pulsars. Pulsars are spinning collapsed stars that have been studied in great detail since their discovery in 1967. The extremely stable rotation of these cosmic fly-wheels has previously led to the discovery of the first planets orbiting other stars and provided stringent tests for theories of gravity that shape the universe. However, this rotational stability is not perfect and, until now, slight irregularities in their spin have significantly reduced their usefulness as precision tools.

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The team, led by the University of Manchester's Professor Andrew Lyne, has used their observations to explain these variations and to demonstrate a method by which they may be corrected. …

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