Advanced Research

Are you ready to take your PSC research to the next level?

Join a research teams to perform cutting-edge research in pulsar astrophysics! These teams are composed of both new and veteran researchers and will observe with the 20 m telescope and analyze data through Jupyter notebooks and other tools. Students must have passed the pulsar certification tests and inspected 50 datasets to participate. These projects will result in real, publishable research results! If you are interested in joining a team, complete this statement of interest form

1) Giant Pulse Bonanza
One of the enduring mysteries in pulsar astronomy is a subset of pulses known as giant pulses. Significantly stronger than an average pulse, astronomers have numerous questions about this bizarre phenomenon. What causes these giant pulses? What factors impact whether a pulsar is likely to show giant pulses? How do they affect our ability to time pulsars? In order to address these questions, we are going to look at the famous Crab Pulsar, along with a number of other giant pulse emitters. We will study the rates of these giant pulses over time, the amplitudes of these pulses, and if the rates change when events such as glitches – a rapid but temporary increase in pulse frequency – occur. Students will write code to allow analysis of data from the 20m telescope at Green Bank, West Virginia. They will also learn to schedule and conduct regular observations with that same telescope through the Skynet Robotic Telescope Network. The project will include one or more research papers to be written after conclusion of the work to be published, as well as participation in the PSC Capstone event and other research conferences at the discretion of the larger PSC. In line with other projects, students will have access to undergraduate, graduate, and professional mentors. Please join us if you are interested in a new and exciting project on the forefront of pulsar research!

2) Magnetar timing project
Magnetars are young neutron stars with the strongest magnetic fields known so far in the universe. Their magnetic fields are ~100-1000 times stronger than the radio pulsars, and are believed to be powered by the decay of their enormous magnetic fields.  As such, they are unique laboratories to test the physics of matter embedded in strong gravitational and magnetic fields. They are also slow rotators completing a rotation once every one to ten seconds and have larger than average spin-down rates, compared to the radio pulsars. Magnetars are mostly discovered as high-energy sources emitting intense bright bursts of X-ray or gamma radiation, but a handful of them have been observed in radio wavelengths and show interesting properties. In this project, we will monitor a few bright radio magnetars weekly with the 20m radio telescope at Green Bank to track changes in their flux densities, pulse profile shapes and single pulse behavior, all of which can vary on short timescales. The students will build skills in radio analysis, experience collaborative research environments through interaction with other PSC members, and get the opportunity to present the results of their work at research conferences or PSC events. This research will further explore the capability of a 20-m telescope in studying these exotic sources and result in publication.

3) Pulsar scintillation project
Pulsars “scintillate” as their emission passes through the gas of the interstellar medium on its way to Earth. Due to constructive and destructive interference of their radio waves, this causes variations in the intensity of their detected emission and also in the frequency structure. In this project, we will observe a subset of pulsars with the 20-m telescope at Green Bank to determine how the time and frequency scale of this interference changes with time. This will allow us to compare with models for the interstellar medium and learn both about it and about pulsar velocities. Students will learn basic data reduction and working with Python-based code in a Jupyter notebook environment. We plan for this work to result in a publication!

Instrumentation Project

For clubs interested in getting involved in more of an engineering project, we have most of the components needed to build a working radio telescope and will provide them free of charge to   eager educational groups. We are interested in developing a network of folks who will build, test, improve and use Horn Antennas to investigate the hydrogen in the Milky Way, and transient events like cosmic rays, and who will participate in a communications platform to share the experience.  We would like to evaluate these horns for a potential future educational grant, so we’ll be asking for your feedback. These horn radio telescopes were developed by WVU engineers working with high school teachers.  You can learn more here, and if interested, please contact Sue Ann for more information!