(Submitted November 12, 1997)
Why do we study pulsars?
We study pulsars for the same reason physicists used to study other
worthless phenomena, such as why steam expands, or what lightning is made
of--because we are curious. We are curious about the properties of nuclear
matter that make up the neutron stars of the pulsars. We are curious
about the relativistic effects of extreme electromagnetic and gravitational
fields moving through space at high speeds. We are curious about
In the past, curiosity has always paid off, e.g., with the steam-engine age
and the electronic age. Although pulsars have led to new insights on
timekeeping (pulsars are the most accurate clocks known) and the forces
that cause earthquakes (by using pulsars to determine how radiotelescopes
move, you can map the motions of Earth's crust), and may someday lead to
totally unpredictable advances, that is not the reason why people do it.
People study pulsars because it's fun to discover things that nobody has
ever known before.
for Ask an Astrophysicist