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Imagine… After millions of years of nuclear fusion, a massive star depletes its core of hydrogen and helium. With no outward pressure to hold it up, gravity wins, and the star collapses. The outer layers rebound from the core and are expelled into space in a gaint supernova explosion.  But, what of the core?? It continues to collapse into a neutron star… an object with the mass of our Sun, yet only 20 kilometers in diameter. 

Bright central object, the Crab pulsar surrounded by gas being accelerated to a fraction of the speed of light.

Crab Nebula Pulsar Imaged with Chandra X-Ray Telescope and the Hubble Space Telescope.  Credit: NASA/CXC/ASU/J. Hester et al., HST/ASU/J. Hester et al.

Some neutron stars–those we can detect–are called pulsars.  Pulsars are incredible! Unlike our Sun which spins once every 25 days or so, pulsars can spin up to 800 times/second!  They have magnetic fields 10,000,000,000 times stronger than a fridge magnet!

Want to help us discover new pulsars? The Pulsar Search Collaboratory is  an out-of-school-time citizen science project for students aged 13 and up. Teachers can join too!   After training, PSC students and teachers gain access to radio astronomy data collected  by the Green Bank Telescope, the world’s fully steerable radio telescope. PSC members then analyze the data to search for new pulsars.

Finding a pulsar is a significant scientific discovery, which advances our knowledge of the Universe!  To date, PSC students have analyzed more than 2,000,000 pieces of data, discovered 8 new pulsars, have been authors on scientific publications, and were congratulated in person by President Obama!

PSC student Lucas Bolyard at White House Star Party

PSC student Lucas Bolyard at White House Star Party