Astronomers find Southern Hemisphere pulsar via MWA telescope

Astronomers deploying the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) telescope have discovered a pulsar in the Southern Hemisphere for the first time, from using the low-frequency radio telescope located deep in the Australian Outback.

The newly discovered pulsar raises the astronomers’ hopes that more pulsars are likely to be found in the Southern Hemisphere.

The MWA telescope is located in Western Australia’s remote Mid West region.

The telescope is a precursor asset for the upcoming multi-billion-dollar Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope

The steep-spectrum low-luminosity pulsar was discovered by Nick Swainston, a PhD student at the Curtin University node of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR), while he was processing data as part of a pulsar survey.

The ICRAR is a joint venture between Curtin University and The University of Western Australia, with support and funding from the State Government of Western Australia.

Pulsars are dense and rapidly spinning neutron stars that transmit radio waves into the cosmos. 

Astronomers around the globe generally rely on pulsars to test the laws of physics under extreme conditions, while studying the Universe.

Key science driver

Discovering pulsars is also a key science driver for the SKA telescope project.

Dr. Ramesh Bhat, an ICRAR-Curtin University astronomer who shadowed Swainston’s discovery, confirmed the newly discovered pulsar is located more than 3,000 light-years from Earth.

According to Bhat, the pulsar spins approximately once every second, an “incredibly fast” speed “compared to regular stars and planets, but in the world of pulsars, it’s pretty normal”.

Dr Bhat said the finding was made using about 1% of the large volume of data collected for the pulsar survey, adding “we’ve only scratched the surface”.

Bhat noted: “When we do this project at full-scale, we should find hundreds of pulsars in the coming years.”

Prof. Steven Tingay, MWA Director, said the [pulsar] discovery hints at a large population of pulsars awaiting discovery in the Southern Hemisphere.

‘Exciting finding’

“This finding is really exciting because the data processing is incredibly challenging.

“The results show the potential for us to discover many more pulsars with the MWA and the low-frequency part of the SKA,” Tingay added.

The MWA is the first of four SKA precursors to be completed.

Curtin University leads a consortium of partner institutions from seven nations that finance the development, construction, commissioning and operations of the MWA facility.

The seven nations are: Australia, United States, India, New Zealand, Canada, Japan, and China.

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