SEP 24, 2020 6:40 AM PDT

Turning Pulsars into Deep Space Beacons

WRITTEN BY: Daniel Duan

Navigating beyond Earth's orbit is tricky. Any misstep in movement could lead to the crushes of space probes and vessels. 

To these days, spacecraft pilots have been relying on Earth-bound "beacons" – a network of transmission stations, for navigation. NASA scientists are hoping to establish a new guiding mechanism for deep space travellers, with the help of an unusual celestial body - the pulsars.

As giant stars (which usually fall between 10 and 25 times solar mass) approach the end of their life, they collapse onto their core and form an immensely dense object called the neutron stars. Some neutron stars are magnetized and rotating in very high frequency, which results in beams of "pulse" shot out of their magnetic poles, hence the name "pulsar".

Using the Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) on board of the International Space Station (ISS), scientists have been studying the soft X-ray emitted from pulsars. Just like the satellites involved in the GPS (Global Positioning System), these highly magnetized dead stars can act as beacons for space-faring vessels thanks to the short (as little as milliseconds) and precise interval between their pulses. In early 2018, a pilot experiment demonstrated the feasibility of using X-ray for navigation. In the course of several days, the NICER module recorded high timing accuracy and small phase errors (less than 10 microseconds for two of the pulsars). 

Source: Seeker via Youtube

About the Author
  • Graduated with a bachelor degree in Pharmaceutical Science and a master degree in neuropharmacology, Daniel is a radiopharmaceutical and radiobiology expert based in Ottawa, Canada. With years of experience in biomedical R&D, Daniel is very into writing. He is constantly fascinated by what's happening in the world of science. He hopes to capture the public's interest and promote scientific literacy with his trending news articles. The recurring topics in his Chemistry & Physics trending news section include alternative energy, material science, theoretical physics, medical imaging, and green chemistry.
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