Pulsars and Quasars

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Pulsars and Quasars are commonly confused objects. We see both of them as pulsing beams of light far off in the universe but what really is the difference? Pulsars are actually neutron stars (collapsed supernovas, remember?) that shoot beams of radiation and such out of their poles. Quasars aren’t actually stars, but it’s still being debated what they actually are.

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How Were They Discovered?
At the Cambridge University Observatory in 1967 Jocelyn Bell and Anthony Hewish first observed a Pulsar. They weren’t actually looking for the thing, they were actually studying stars when they happened upon it. Quite perplexed by this blinking object they thought it might be aliens, hence the original name for this pulsar LGM-1 (little green men in case you didn’t catch that already). They also thought it might be a telescope that they were seeing but that was all disproven when they realized that it was actually a very distant, rotating neutron star.
The first Quasar was discovered in 1960 by T. Matthews and A. Sandage. It wasn’t until three years later that they saw that this object had an extremely high red shift (very far away) and was actually the brightest type of object in the universe.

How Do These Objects Help Us Understand The Universe?
Aside from putting a good finale on the life cycle of stars I can’t really give you a good reason how Pulsars help explain our universe.
Quasars on the other hand, though this is still being debated, could be an explanation of the formation of galaxies. This theory is primarily due to the fact that the red shift on these things are so high scientists
realized that they’re pretty far away and therefore are ridiculously old. So if they’re ridiculously old and have enough energy to be this bright they might as well be part of a forming galaxy.

What’s Special About Them?
Seriously? They’re incredibly dense objects that spew out energy from distances I don’t even want to think about and are still brighter than anything around.
The special thing about pulsars is that they only have a diameter of about the size of Manhattan. That’s why they’re spinning so fast in the first place, when the star blows up it does lose some stuff but what collapses back into this thing is still very massive so when you shorten the radius and keep the mass the same its going to spin faster. So now that this rotating mass (which by the way to give you a small estimate of its density, if you take a piece the size of a sugar cube it would weigh about 100 million tons on earth) is spitting out radiation on both sides of it (as if that’s not special enough) they actually keep near perfect time. Since there are no factors to slow down their rotation (aside from losing mass but the amount its losing isn’t near enough to make a difference) the speed of rotation and the flashes we see are amazingly consistent.

Quasars special point would have to be that they’re the brightest thing in the known universe. We can still see them even though they’re so incredibly far away and moving even farther away at about 80% the speed of light. These things produce 10 to 100 times more energy than our entire galaxy which is the only reason we can see them at such a distance. They’re actually believed to be 10 billion light years away (the universe is only about 13 billion years old by the way) which also makes them the oldest visible thing in the known universe as well.

Recent Findings
Aside from their discoveries in the 1960s there haven’t been too many realizations about these things. Pulsars were easier to figure out but scientists still aren’t even sure what Quasars are. I guess I’ll call the theory on what Quasars are the most recent finding. This theory is that Quasars are actually super massive black holes that essentially devour the mass of the sun every year. They have an accelerated disk around them (which is what they eat from) which as it spins faster and faster the friction between the particles gets pretty intense and the whole thing gets extremely hot (so there’s a lot of light and energy here…). To add to this friction, there are also jets of energy spilling out both sides of the black hole because there’s so much energy going into it.

Personal Views
Though I find these things incredible they don’t exactly spark my interest. It’s cool to hear about things like this but until we can find some practical application for this knowledge it’s just a series of interesting facts.

Works Cited