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Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Sound in Space: The drumbeats of pulsars

The Allen Antenna array.

The stars are beautiful, or at least very sparkly. But most people will tell you they're not much to listen to - after all, in space no-one can here you scream, so how would you hear the stars? But there are signals out there - radio wavelength signals - that we can listen to with the right equipment.

So, if you wore radio dishes on your ears, what would you hear?*

Not a peaceful sky, or even a snatch of Beethoven. No, you'd hear a Milky Way echoing to the buzzing, humming, and drumming sounds of pulsars. These are incredibly dense objects, forged from the collapsing cores of supernova - and spun up to incredible speeds by them. Never more than twenty kilometres across, a new born pulsar can spin hundreds times a second. They give out intense beams of radiation, including radio waves, so as they spin radio antenna on Earth hear the click of the beam briefly sweeping over us.

There are old, slow ones that drum like a runners footsteps...


... and there are fast young ones that swarm in star clusters like 47 Tucanae, filling the sky with a whine like the universe's most terrifying cloud of mosquitoes...


But a universe full of strange knocking and humming sounds isn't the odd bit. The odd bit is that you can buy an album of music made using them.

*Given my knowledge of fashion this could actually be a thing for all I know



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