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The Question

(Submitted February 27, 1998)

Who discovered the first pulsar?

The Answer

In 1967 Jocelyn Bell discovered the first pulsar. Because she was a graduate student at the time, her advisor (Anthony Hewish) was given a share of the 1974 Nobel Prize instead of her.

They had no idea what these signals were, so they were dubbed little green men (LGM) as a reference to extraterrestrial life. Soon after, Thomas Gold showed that a spinning neutron star could make the same pulses.

If you are still interested, there have been a number of very good articles about this discovery. At any rate, you must read:

http://www.bigear.org/vol1no1/burnell.htm

This reproduces an article originally presented as an after-dinner speech at one of the Texas Symposia by Jocelyn Bell Burnell --- it's a very personal & entertaining account of the discovery.

Sincerely,

Jonathan Keohane & Koji Mukai
for Ask an Astrophysicist

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