jocelyn burnell bell

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In 1967 astronomer Jocelyn Burnell Bell found an unusual object blinking in a dark corner of the sky in the constellation Vulpecula. With a period of 1.3373 seconds and a pulse width of 0.04 second it was the first radio pulsar discovered, although Bell and her Ph.D. advisor astronomer Antony Hewish had no idea what exactly they were seeing. Given the regularity of the signal, they briefly (and mostly jokingly) considered the possibility that they had stumbled upon evidence of extra-terrestrial intelligence, and dubbed it LGM1, for Little Green Men 1. According to Bell:

We did not really believe that we had picked up signals from another civilization, but obviously the idea had crossed our minds and we had no proof that it was an entirely natural radio emission. It is an interesting problem - if one thinks one may have detected life elsewhere in the universe how does one announce the results responsibly? Who does one tell first?

Thomas Gold and Franco Pacini suggested that pulsars were in fact pulsating neutron stars, confirmed with the discovery of a second pulsar in the Crab Nebula. The next year in March 1968, The Daily Telegraph was first to publish the new word:

An entirely novel kind of star came to light on Aug. 6 last year and was referred to, by astronomers, as LGM (Little Green Men). Now it is thought to be a novel type between a white dwarf and a neutron [sic]. The name Pulsar is likely to be given to it. Dr. A. Hewish told me yesterday: “… I am sure that today every radio telescope is looking at the Pulsars.”

The word itself was a combination of pulsating and star, a very literal and descriptive explanation of what scientists were seeing. Today that first pulsar is known variously as CP 1919, PSR B1919+21 and PSR J1921+2153.

Pulsars are so unique that NASA used them as intergalactic locators, drawing a map on the Pioneer plaques to allow extra-terrestrial intelligences to find planet Earth.

In 1974 Antony Hewish became the first astronomer to win a Nobel Prize in Physics, with a bit of controversy surrounding the award as Bell (who actually discovered the pulsar) was not co-awarded the prize.

All images used under CC 3.0 license.

Jocelyn Bell Burnell (b. 1943) is an astrophysicist from Northern Ireland, who was the first to discover radio pulsars. Despite the fact that it was her research that led to the first observation and analysis of the pulsars, it was her supervisor, Antony Hewish, who received the 1974 Nobel Prize in Physics for the breakthrough discovery.

Growing up in Northern Ireland, she was only allowed to study science at school after her parents and others protested against the exclusion of female students from such subjects. She obtained her PhD from the University of Cambridge, and went on to become the President of the Royal Astronomical Society and of the Institute of Physics. In 2014 she became President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the first woman to hold the position.

I graduated today! It was amazing and pretty overwhelming at times, but I loved it. Also, during my ceremony the university awarded an honorary degree to Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell - she’s an amazing astrophysicist and Nobel prize winner who discovered the first radio pulsars.

She gave a very inspiring speech that I thought I would share with you. She spoke of ‘imposters syndrome’, where, when you’re faced with a situation where you feel that your peers are so superior that you don’t deserve to be there or that you won’t be successful. I’d never heard of this but it all makes sense to me. So many of us work so hard and shy away from the rewards of our successes. Embrace your position as an enthusiastic academic and give everything you do, all that you can.

Thank you to all my followers who have supported me in the lead up to my graduation. As a new graduate and a holder of a BA Hons first class degree, I’m more appreciative of the studyblr community than ever.

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About that Alien Megastructure around  KIC 8462852…

Scientists shocked the world this week with the announcement of an unusual discovery by the Kepler program.   Tabetha Boyajian of Yale University led a team watching a star (KIC 8462852) around 1500 light years from Earth whose unusual light patterns defy current understanding.  Several hypotheses have been offered, including the possibility that indeed, a giant alien megastructure was found.  But it isn’t the first time scientists found unusual bodies deep in space.

In 1967 astronomer Jocelyn Burnell Bell found an unusual object blinking in a dark corner of the sky in the constellation Vulpecula. With a period of 1.3373 seconds and a pulse width of 0.04 second it was the first radio pulsar discovered, although Bell and her Ph.D. advisor astronomer Antony Hewish had no idea what exactly they were seeing. Given the regularity of the signal, they briefly (and mostly jokingly) considered the possibility that they had stumbled upon evidence of extra-terrestrial intelligence, and dubbed it LGM1, for Little Green Men 1. According to Bell:

We did not really believe that we had picked up signals from another civilization, but obviously the idea had crossed our minds and we had no proof that it was an entirely natural radio emission. It is an interesting problem - if one thinks one may have detected life elsewhere in the universe how does one announce the results responsibly? Who does one tell first?

Thomas Gold and Franco Pacini suggested that pulsars were in fact pulsating neutron stars, confirmed with the discovery of a second pulsar in the Crab Nebula. The next year in March 1968, The Daily Telegraph was first to publish the new word:

An entirely novel kind of star came to light on Aug. 6 last year and was referred to, by astronomers, as LGM (Little Green Men). Now it is thought to be a novel type between a white dwarf and a neutron [sic]. The name Pulsar is likely to be given to it. Dr. A. Hewish told me yesterday: “… I am sure that today every radio telescope is looking at the Pulsars.”

The word itself was a combination of pulsating and star, a very literal and descriptive explanation of what scientists were seeing. Today that first pulsar is known variously as CP 1919, PSR B1919+21 and PSR J1921+2153.

Pulsars are so unique that NASA used them as intergalactic locators, drawing a map on the Pioneer plaques to allow extra-terrestrial intelligences to find planet Earth.

In 1974 Antony Hewish became the first astronomer to win a Nobel Prize in Physics, with a bit of controversy surrounding the award as Bell (who actually discovered the pulsar) was not co-awarded the prize.

Perhaps Tabetha Boyajian has found the first concrete evidence of extraterrestrial life.  Let’s hope scientists can devote more resources to study this unusual star.

All images used under CC 3.0 license.