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Detecting Ultrahigh Energy Pulsars

NSF Award:

PARTICLE ASTROPHYSICS WITH VERITAS  (University of California-Los Angeles)

High Energy Gamma-Ray Astrophysics with VERITAS  (Barnard College)

Particle Astrophysics with VERITAS  (University of Chicago)

Observations of Galactic TeV Sources with VERITAS  (University of Iowa)

TeV Studies of Active Galactic Nuclei and Starburst Galaxies with the VERITAS Gamma-ray Observatory  (Adler Planetarium)

RUI: Analysis of TeV Gamma-rays from AGN and Dark Matter  (California Polytechnic State University Foundation)

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Using the Very Energetic Radiation Imaging Telescope Array System (VERITAS) Observatory, astrophysicists have detected emissions from the Crab pulsar at energies above 100 billion electron volts--much higher than predicted by current pulsar models. One electron volt is the energy an electron gains when it is accelerated by 1 volt.

While the general mechanism of how a pulsar emits light is well understood, current models cannot explain the generation of pulsed light with energies above 100 billion electron volts. The VERITAS measurements will introduce important limits on models for how pulsars accelerate material to generate high-energy radiation.

VERITAS is a ground-based gamma ray observatory composed of an array of four 12-meter-diameter imaging atmospheric Cherenkov telescopes located at the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory in southern Arizona. VERITAS detects very-high-energy gamma rays over a range from 1 billion to 50 trillion electron volts by imaging the flashes of Cherenkov light produced when these photons impact the Earth's atmosphere. 

The Crab pulsar--a rapidly spinning, magnetized neutron star--is the remnant of a supernova explosion observed in the year 1054. At a distance of 6500 light-years, the Crab pulsar is one of the most powerful and extensively studied pulsars.

Image

  • illustration of the veritas observatory detecting crab pulsar emission
Artist's concept of VERITAS detecting Crab pulsar emission.
Jose Francisco Salgado (Adler Planetarium) based on images by M. SubbaRao, S. Criswell, B. Humensky, J.F. Salgado, NASA/HST/Spitzer/Chandra

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