Pulsars 'lying about their age,' astronomers conclude
Pulsar and supernova remnant collectively known as "the Duck"
(CNN) -- Pulsars, superdense neutron stars that emit rotating
jets of intense radiation, could be much older than originally
thought. The scientific discovery could force astronomers to
reexamine basic assumptions about the universe, according to
a team of scientists.
For decades scientists have used pulsars as a benchmark to
make a variety of scientific conclusions in astronomy and
The only problem is that pulsars have been "lying about their
age," said astronomers using the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Socorro, New Mexico.
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One pulsar thought to be 16,000 years old more likely is
between 40,000 and 170,000 years old, said Bryan Gaensler of
the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
"This means that much of what we thought we understood about
the physics of pulsars and neutron stars may be wrong,"
Gaensler said in a statement.
Neutron stars, considered the densest objects in the
universe, provide important physical tests for a basic
understanding of matter.
Yet "much of this theory is based on a believe that we could
accurately estimate their ages. Our research indicates that
these objects may be 10 times older than we thought. This
could force much reevaluation," Gaensler said.
Scientists for years determined the approximate age of a
pulsar by measuring the rate by which a pulsar's rotation
But Gaensler and others, determining the age of a pulsar
15,000 light-years away through another technique, found the
traditional method well off the mark.
Plotting the path and speed of the pulsar from the center of
the remnant of the supernova that created the pulsar, the
scientists figured that it must be at least 3.5 times older
than previously estimated.
"It is a much older object than we believe," said Gaensler of
the pulsar, which together with the supernova remnant has
been dubbed "the Duck" because of their unusual appearance.
The team's findings were published in the July 13 issue of
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July 22, 1998
The National Radio Astronomy Observatory
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
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