Watching Nature Experiment in Deep Space
More massive than our sun, and packed into a sphere smaller than the island of Montreal-neutron stars are the stuff of science fiction. Yet they are a fact of life in the night sky. Emitting bursts of radiation as they rotate, these objects pulse regularly like exotic lighthouses.
Neutron stars represent the final stages of the life of a star that has exploded. As a result, they can tell us a great deal about the properties of larger stars, how they collapse, and what happens to them as they do so.
They also tell us a great deal about how matter behaves under conditions of radiation and gravity that are more extreme than anything we could duplicate in a laboratory. What we learn about this physical behaviour opens up new avenues for understanding the very nature of matter, and how we might deal with it under less extreme settings here on earth.
For that reason, the questions surrounding the properties of neutron stars have major implications for a broad range of issues in astrophysics, as well as physics in general. Victoria Kaspi has examined many of those issues, using earth-based observatories as well as a new generation of orbiting satellites designed for astronomical research.
Her work has focused specifically on the timing of electromagnetic pulses from neutron stars, which can indicate the degree of turbulence in the almost empty space between stars. As the holder of a Canada Research Chair, she will undertake a major program of studying these radio and X-ray signals, taking advantage of the latest recording and data processing technology to assess the results.