Hawkesbury Radio Astronomy Observatory

Vela Pulsar Observations

Observing PSR B0833-45 with a Small Aperture Antenna


Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What do I need to know if I am interested in pulsar detection?
  2. What should I read in order to come up to speed with the challenges of pulsar detection?
  3. Are there any websites dealing with citizen scientist pulsar detection?
  4. Is the location of the observatory important?

  1. What do I need to know if I am interested in pulsar detection?

    A lot. It has taken the author of these pages over 4 years to acquire the knowledge required to successfully detect a pulsar with minimal equipment.  You should be familiar with radio astronomy in general, understand the implications of the radiometer equation, what is meant by antenna aperture as opposed to gain, what dispersion is, the principle of epoch-folding. The task is simplified if you have prior experience in building successful radio astronomy projects - such as HI line detection.  Another simplified path is via experience with successful Earth-Moon-Earth (EME) communications.  The problems presented by EME are similar to pulsar detection.  Essentially you can take an EME setup (say, for 70 cm (432 MHz)), add a different backend (pulsar detection system) and have a respectable pulsar detection system.
     
  2. What should I read in order to come up to speed with the challenges of pulsar detection?

    If you know nothing about pulsars then browse the web for as much basic information as you can find.  Then, if you are still interested, buy a good reference book.  I use and recommend the "Handbook of Pulsar Astronomy" by Duncan Lorimer and Michael Kramer.  Also I use "Pulsar Astronomy" by Andrew Lyne and Francis Graham-Smith.  Both books are written by professional astronomers.
     
  3. Are there any websites dealing with citizen scientist pulsar detection?

    The Neutron Star Group (NSG) website has a list of all known successful pulsar-hunting citizen scientists with links to their sites (if they exist) as well as information on the challenges facing citizen scientists attempting pulsar detection.
     
  4. Is the location of the observatory important ?

    Yes - firstly and fundamentally the latitude of the observatory determines which pulsars are visible.  The lowest declination limit for those in the northern hemisphere is Latitude - 90°. For example for an observatory in Bonn, Germany, the lowest declination which is still above the horizon is (50.75 - 90) = -39.25°.  This rules out the Vela pulsar (B0833-45) the strongest pulsar.  For those in the southern hemisphere the limit is 90° + Latitude. For example an observatory in Melbourne, Australia the highest declination which is still above the horizon is
    (90 + (-37.8)) = 50.2°.  This rules out B0329+54, the second strongest pulsar.

    Secondly, there is the local effect of radio frequency interference (RFI) which reduces the sensitivity of a radio telescope or, in some cases, completely masks any results.  The best site is in the country away from plasma screens, mobile phones towers and the like. The worst site is in the middle of the city.  Most citizen scientists seem to have success from semi-rural to rural sites - just like the professional observatories.