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Pulsars 'lying about their age,' astronomers conclude

pulsar
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 particle physics.

The only problem is that pulsars have been "lying about their age," said astronomers using the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Socorro, New Mexico.

  MESSAGE BOARD
 

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 period slowed.

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 Nature.



RELATED STORIES:
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July 6, 2000
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Astronomers observe a 'cannibal' pulsar stealing matter from a companion star
July 22, 1998

RELATED SITE:
The National Radio Astronomy Observatory
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Nature

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