An introduction to Dookian astrophysics

So I mentioned I’d be doing some cool science-y stuff in this blog and I should probably explain what to expect. I suck at science and I’ve forgotten most of the maths I once knew, but there’s so much crazy stuff being discovered these days that simply beggars belief. My aim here isn’t to explain things or study them (bleurgh) – it’s more to point out all the cool stuff dedicated scientists have found. To begin then:

4 Reasons Why The Pulsar Is The Most Badass Star

1: It’s Also A Neutron Star (cheater)

Pulsar’s are highly magnetized neutron stars, and since neutron stars are their main competitor in the Badass Star Olympics, pulsars have basically screwed over the main competition. Neutron stars are formed during supernova events and consist of nothing but neutrons (Duh) in an incredibly dense, 12km ball.

And when I say dense, I mean dense. When people talk about atoms being almost entirely empty space given the distance between the nucleus and the electrons, that just doesn’t apply to the neutron star – it’s literally solid neutrons at roughly the same density (3×10^17 kg/m^3 for those who are counting) as the atomic nucleus. How heavy is that? Imagine a grain of sand that weighed as much as a boeing 747. Yah. An interesting side effect of this is that it allows another level of magnitude for yo mamma jokes.

2: You can see more than half of it

Since they are so dense, pulsars and neutron stars have more gravity than a sad Morgan Freeman voiceover. This has one awesome and incredible effect:

If you are looking at an object you’re seeing the light that bounces off it and shoots straight into your eyes. Since light travels in straight lines, we can only see things that are directly in front of us…

…Unless the thing in front of you is a neutron star or pulsar (in which case, let’s face it, you’re pretty screwed). These ridiculous objects have so much gravity that the light shooting off the opposite side is bent around and hits your eyes. That’s right – you can see the front half and also part of the back half. Reflect on this mystery of the universe as you get pulped (or, to use the technical term, spaghettified) by those same gravitational waves.


Those lines represent longitude and latitude. W? T? F?

3: Pulsar = Pulsating Star

Now on to the pulsar-specific badassery. When we imagine a star we basically think of just some giant heavenly body made of gas or neutrons or whatever, and they’re pretty impressive sure but they don’t really do anything interesting, do they?

In short? They do. Rather than following mandated star behaviour guidelines like its mother told it to and emitting its radiation evenly across its surface, the pulsar emits strong beams of electromagnetic radiation out of the poles. Since they spin rapidly (record currently held by PSR J1748-2446ad which spins at ¼ the speed of light) they appear to ‘pulse’ as the beams cross earth and then move off. There is rapidly growing scientific consensus that the pulsar is just trying to be difficult, and should be ignored until they learn to behave properly.

4: They are incredibly useful

However we forgive the pulsar its oddities because unlike most stars which just sit there all day smoking and drinking plasma, pulsars have jobs. The regularity of the pulse caused by the spin is more accurate at time keeping than an atomic clock without the danger of a loss of power. Since many have unique spins they can also be used as navigational tools for future space pirates.

The Pioneer plaques were our first prospective messages to aliens – simple symbolic messages screwed onto the Pioneer craft with pictures of a nude man and woman (because scientists are perverts) and directions to earth (which may come back to bite us in the arse if any sci-fi series ever written turns out to be even vaguely correct). How do you direct aliens from another galaxy to our humble little speck? You give its position relative to 14 uniquely identifiable pulsars.

It has just occurred to me that thanks to the brave minds behind the Pioneer Plaques, we may all be royally bollixed.

Image courtesy of wikipedia