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MSc Projects 2008/2009

Pulsars provide the nearest thing to a physicist's dream come true. Being the end-point of stellar evolution, they are densest bodies next to black holes and give us an insight into the most extreme physical conditions of matter density, pressure and magnetic field observable by man. They also provide the most precise clocks known to humankind for undertaking unique experiments of gravitation and general relativity. Furthermore, they can be used as probes of the distribution of ionised material and magnetic field in the Galaxy with a precision which nothing else can. We use the telescopes at Jodrell Bank, Parkes (Australia), Arecibo (Puerto Rico), Westerbork (The Netherlands) and Effelsberg (Germany) in this work and frequently travel to the foreign instruments to make observations. The pulsar group at Jodrell Bank are arguably the most productive in the world in this area and have discovered more than three-quarters of the known population of these elusive and fascinating objects.

There are several main active areas of research in the general area of pulsar astronomy which would support projects which would be ideal for students, starting in September 2008. While we outline a possible area below, we can usually tailor projects to match a student's interest. In particular, we expect steady progress and new discoveries during the next year which are impossible to predict.

The working of pulsars

Last year saw the 40th anniversary of the discovery of pulsars. Still, so many years later, we still do not understand how pulsars really work. While we have a basic picture, many important problems still remain - despite significant advances that have been made recently with unexpected discoveries. One very promising way of learning more about pulsar emission, is the simultaneous observation of single radio pulses at a wide range of frequencies. Current models suggest that each frequency is created at a different height above the hot pulsar surface. Therefore, simultaneous multi-frequency observations provide slices through the stratified, highly magnetized pulsar magnetosphere. Previous experiments involving telescopes in the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Jodrell Bank did not only provide a wealth of information but our European research collaboration was also awarded with the Descartes Prize of the European Union. In this MSc project, the student would analyze existing multi-frequency data, and would interpret these in order to gain insight into the creation of pulsar radio emission. (Note that this project can be extended to a PhD project involving the planning, performance and analysis of new multi-frequency observations.)

Please contact Michael Kramer ( for further details.