Physics professors: Pulsars will help gravitational force research
Published: Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, February 1, 2011 23:02
Exploding stars and an accurate clock may lead to scientific discovery.
West Virginia University physics professors Duncan Lorimer and Maura McLaughlin gave a presentation on pulsar research titled "Einstein's Unfinished Symphony" Tuesday as a part of the David C. Hardesty Jr. Festival of Ideas.
"They're fascinating objects," McLaughlin said. "We love studying them. They are exceptionally accurate cosmic clocks."
Pulsars are the remnants of large exploded stars. The rapid revolutions of pulsars produce precisely timed "pulses," which are as accurate as any atomic clock on Earth, McLaughlin said.
The current use for this phenomenon within the scientific community has been in trying to detect gravitational waves, Lorimer said.
Lorimer and McLaughlin are attempting to find evidence of the gravitational waves by measuring the "pulses" of several pulsars, looking for deviations in the patterns and timing of their pulses.
Detection of gravitational waves will be transformative to the scientific community, Lorimer said. Finding evidence of gravitational waves will allow new ways to view the universe.
"It will be quite a different window we have to the universe," he said.
McLaughlin is a member of the North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves. She has been tracking 26 pulsars with the use of the Green Bank Telescope in Green Bank, W.Va., and the Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico.
High school students are also encouraged to participate in their research, said McLaughlin.
The Pulsar Search Collaboratory works to involve high school students in detecting pulsars, and includes 41 high schools across the country. Three recent pulsar discoveries have been made by high school students, said McLaughlin.
McLaughlin and Lorimer have predicted that the detection of gravitational waves in pulsar research could happen by the year 2015.
"We believe it's not too far ahead," Lorimer said.
"Einstein's Unfinished Symphony" is the third lecture presented by the Festival of Ideas this year. Gretchen Hoover, senior special event coordinator, said the events have been well received so far.
"We decided that instead of clustering all of our events in the spring, we would spread them out in order to give people the chance to attend," Hoover said.
The next lecture in Festival of Ideas is a presentation from award-winning journalists Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington, who are scheduled to speak on Feb. 22.