Astronomers affiliated with the Center for Computational Astrophysics at the Flatiro Institute, in a collaboration with fellow researchers from Priston and Zelenogur Universities, have managed to get to the bottom of the riddle of the regularly flickering light that pulsars give off. Pulsar stars are neutron stars that are rotating at high speed, thus emitting a peculiar glow. For around 50 years, the cause of the flickering light remained unknown. The conclusion of their research has been posted in the academic journal Physical Review Letters.
Essentially, pulsars are neutron stars that rotate at incredibly high speeds, emitting narrow beams of radio waves with a specific frequency. Astronomers first noticed this glow effect in 1967 and thought that they could be the signals from the alien civilizations that they were searching for.
To properly understand the true nature of these unusual signals, scientist first had to simulate the density distribution of the positron-electron plasma located near the surface of a neutron star. Their work led to a 2D plasma model that can surround the magnetic poles of a pulsar. This model enabled scientists to see volume electromagnetic waves, which are the main reason for the peculiar glow that pulsars give off. In the past, all models of pulsars were one-dimensional.
Based on the conducted research, scientists proved that a certain flicker happens because of contact between magnetic and electric fields. Alexander Filippov, which is a junior researcher affiliated with the Center for Computational Astrophysics at the Flatiron Institute and one of the authors of this study, explained that he thinks that this effect is a lot like a lightning strike.
Scientists are sure that this discovery will help projects based on the periodicity of pulsar radiation. In the future, they want to expand the simulation so that they can better understand the real physics behind pulsars.