Video: Hunting for gravitational waves using pulsars

Louise Mayor

Louise Mayor is features editor of Physics World

As features editor of Physics World magazine, my search for stories to share with our readers takes me far and wide – from nuclear reactors to the quietest lab in the world. But sometimes I need look no further than the very office in which I work. That’s because I share my workplace with the staff behind nearly 70 journals published by IOP Publishing. So it was that one lunchtime earlier this year, I got chatting to Adam Day, publisher of Classical and Quantum Gravity (CQG).

Day began telling me about a method of detecting gravitational waves I’d not heard of before, and in no time at all I was hooked. First proposed in the 1970s, the method involves pointing radio telescopes at an array of distant pulsars. The theory is that gravitational waves passing between the pulsars and the telescopes alternately stretch and compress the space in between, changing the time it takes for light pulses from the pulsars to travel this distance. These changes in pulse arrival times can now, in principle, be measured.

I set out to write a feature about this technique for Physics World and, to find out more, I went to Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire, UK, which houses the Lovell Radio Telescope – one of five telescopes involved in the international European Pulsar Timing Array (EPTA) project, which has the specific goal of detecting gravitational waves.

My colleague James Dacey, multimedia projects editor for Physics World, came along  with a small film crew, who shot a series of videos including the one above, featuring Jodrell Bank astronomers talking about pulsars and how they can be used to detect gravitational waves.

For a more in-depth look at this technique, if you are a member of the Institute of Physics you can check out my feature article, Hunting gravitational waves using pulsars, in the October 2014 issue of Physics World, which you can access online or via the Physics World app.

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