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I'm looking to make a custom pulsar map like the one on the Voyager Records, but for an arbitrary location within the Milky Way Galaxy. I'm not even sure where to begin.

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The pulsar map used by Pioneer and Voyager is a diagram of the position of the Sun relative to 14 galactic pulsars. It encodes their positions, distances, and pulse periods, which in theory makes it a decent tool for identifying where the Solar System is (although there are some issues with it). To make a similar map for an arbitrary point in the galaxy, you'd need to find a selection of pulsars near that location, and encode the same amount of information. To do that, you need a database of pulsars.

The Australian Telescope National Facility (ATNF) has a really excellent pulsar catalogue that I like to use, with over 2600 entries. You can query it fairly easily using a number of parameters, including distance, dispersion measure, coordinates, pulse period, etc. This makes it a handy tool to match observations with already known pulsars, but it should also be well-suited to your needs. You can get a list of pulsar names, coordinates, periods and distances by checking the JName, RaJ, DecJ, P0 and Dist parameters in the search interface, then click the button to get a table of the results. You should then be able to compute the positions of all of the pulsars in the catalogue in your coordinate system of choice, then re-compute their positions with respect to a chosen location in space.

The output of the first hundred rows looks like this:

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
#     NAME                     RAJ                                DECJ                               P0                                     DIST
                               (hms)                              (dms)                              (s)                                    (kpc)
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1     J0002+6216    cwp+17     00:02:58.17          2  cwp+17     +62:16:09.4          1  cwp+17     0.1153635682680         14  cwp+17     *
2     J0006+1834    cnt96      00:06:04.8           2  cn95       +18:34:59            4  cn95       0.69374767047           14  cn95       0.86
3     J0007+7303    aaa+09c    00:07:01.7           2  awd+12     +73:03:07.4          8  awd+12     0.3158731909             3  awd+12     1.40
4     J0011+08      dsm+16     00:11:34           114  dsm+16     +08:10               8  dsm+16     2.55287                  0  dsm+16     5.40
5     B0011+47      dth78      00:14:17.75          4  hlk+04     +47:46:33.4          3  hlk+04     1.240699038946          11  hlk+04     1.78

6     J0023+0923    hrm+11     00:23:16.878141      9  abb+18     +09:23:23.8652       3  abb+18     0.003050203104480002     7  abb+18     1.11
7     J0024-7201Z              00:24:06.041         2  frk+17     -72:05:01.480        6  frk+17     0.004554447383906        3  frk+17     2.56
8     J0024-7204aa  phl+16     00:24:05.67          0  mam+06     -72:04:52.62         0  mam+06     0.00184                  0  phl+16     2.69
9     J0024-7204ab  phl+16     00:24:08.1615        5  frk+17     -72:04:47.602        2  frk+17     0.0037046394947985       6  frk+17     2.54
10    B0021-72C     mld+90     00:23:50.3546        1  frk+17     -72:04:31.5048       4  frk+17     0.00575677999551635     14  frk+17     4.69

11    B0021-72D     mlr+91     00:24:13.88092       6  frk+17     -72:04:43.8524       2  frk+17     0.00535757328486573      9  frk+17     4.69
12    B0021-72E     mlr+91     00:24:11.10528       5  frk+17     -72:05:20.1492       2  frk+17     0.00353632915276244      4  frk+17     4.69
13    B0021-72F     mlr+91     00:24:03.85547      10  frk+17     -72:04:42.8183       2  frk+17     0.00262357935251262      4  frk+17     4.69
14    B0021-72G     rlm+95     00:24:07.9603        1  frk+17     -72:04:39.7030       5  frk+17     0.00404037914356515     14  frk+17     4.69
15    B0021-72H     mlr+91     00:24:06.7032        2  frk+17     -72:04:06.8067       6  frk+17     0.00321034070935032     11  frk+17     4.69

16    B0021-72I     mlr+91     00:24:07.9347        2  frk+17     -72:04:39.6815       7  frk+17     0.00348499206166289     13  frk+17     4.69
17    B0021-72J     mlr+91     00:23:59.4077        1  frk+17     -72:03:58.7908       5  frk+17     0.00210063354535246      5  frk+17     4.69
18    B0021-72L     rlm+95     00:24:03.7721        3  frk+17     -72:04:56.923        2  frk+17     0.0043461679994616       4  frk+17     4.69
19    B0021-72M     mlr+91     00:23:54.4899        3  frk+17     -72:05:30.756        2  frk+17     0.0036766432176002       3  frk+17     4.69
20    B0021-72N     rlm+95     00:24:09.1880        2  frk+17     -72:04:28.8907       7  frk+17     0.00305395434626085     10  frk+17     4.69

21    J0024-7204O   clf+00     00:24:04.65254       6  frk+17     -72:04:53.7670       2  frk+17     0.00264334329724357      5  frk+17     4.69
22    J0024-7204P   clf+00     00:24:20            29  rft+16     -72:04:10           62  rft+16     0.0036430207             3  rft+16     4.69
23    J0024-7204Q   clf+00     00:24:16.4909        1  frk+17     -72:04:25.1644       6  frk+17     0.00403318118457258     15  frk+17     4.69
24    J0024-7204R   clf+00     00:24:07.5851        2  frk+17     -72:04:50.3954       5  frk+17     0.00348046270749329     13  frk+17     4.69
25    J0024-7204S   clf+00     00:24:03.9794        1  frk+17     -72:04:42.3530       4  frk+17     0.00283040595787912      8  frk+17     4.69

26    J0024-7204T   clf+00     00:24:08.5491        5  frk+17     -72:04:38.932        3  frk+17     0.0075884798073671      12  frk+17     4.69
27    J0024-7204U   clf+00     00:24:09.8366        1  frk+17     -72:03:59.6882       4  frk+17     0.00434282669639233     12  frk+17     4.69
28    J0024-7204V   clf+00     00:24:05.67          0  mam+06     -72:04:52.62         0  mam+06     0.00481016762            7  rft+16     4.69
29    J0024-7204W   clf+00     00:24:06.058         1  rft+16     -72:04:49.088        2  rft+16     0.0023523445319370       3  rft+16     4.69
30    J0024-7204X   fre08      00:24:22.38565       9  rft+16     -72:01:17.4414       7  rft+16     0.00477152291069356      5  rft+16     4.69

31    J0024-7204Y   frk+17     00:24:01.4026        1  frk+17     -72:04:41.8363       4  frk+17     0.00219665714352123      5  frk+17     4.69
32    J0024-7204Z   fre08      00:24:05.67          0  mam+06     -72:04:52.62         0  mam+06     0.004554                 0  fre08      4.69
33    J0026+6320    jml+09     00:26:50.561         8  jml+09     +63:20:00.87         5  jml+09     0.318357731235           1  jml+09     6.42
34    J0030+0451    lzb+00     00:30:27.42781       4  abb+18     +04:51:39.7113      14  abb+18     0.0048654532112551       3  abb+18     0.32
35    J0033+57      hrk+08     00:33                0  hrk+08     +57                  0  hrk+08     0.315                    0  hrk+08     2.25

36    J0033+61      hrk+08     00:33                0  hrk+08     +61                  0  hrk+08     0.912                    0  hrk+08     1.64
37    J0034-0534    bhl+94     00:34:21.83422       8  dcl+16     -05:34:36.722        3  dcl+16     0.0018771818845850       2  aaa+10b    1.35
38    B0031-07      lvw69a     00:34:08.8703        1  cbv+09     -07:21:53.409        2  cbv+09     0.9429509945598         17  hlk+04     1.03
39    J0034+69      slr+14     00:34                3  slr+14     +69:43              18  slr+14     0.03680412              16  slr+14     2.28
40    B0037+56      dtws85     00:40:32.362         6  hlk+04     +57:16:24.91         6  hlk+04     1.1182253452412         13  hlk+04     2.42

41    J0045-7042    mfl+06     00:45:25.69         17  mfl+06     -70:42:07.1         13  mfl+06     0.63233580002            6  mfl+06     59.70
42    J0045-7319    mmh+91     00:45:35.16          7  kbm+96     -73:19:03.0          2  kbm+96     0.92627590497            3  kbm+96     59.70
43    B0045+33      dtws85     00:48:33.98          3  hlk+04     +34:12:08.0          4  hlk+04     1.217094296058           8  hlk+04     4.50
44    J0050+03      dsm+16     00:50:31           113  dsm+16     +03:48               8  dsm+16     1.36656                  0  dsm+16     25.00
45    J0051+0423    snt97      00:51:30.1           2  snt97      +04:22:49            6  snt97      0.35473179890            1  snt97      1.25

46    J0053+69      slr+14     00:53                3  slr+14     +69:39              18  slr+14     0.832938                28  slr+14     2.75
47    J0054+66      hrk+08     00:54                0  hrk+08     +66                  0  hrk+08     1.39                     0  hrk+08     0.90
48    J0054+69      kkl+15     00:54:28            25  kkl+15     +69:26               2  kkl+15     *                        0  *          2.35
49    B0052+51      dtws85     00:55:45.378        10  hlk+04     +51:17:24.97        11  hlk+04     2.115171148865           4  hlk+04     1.94
50    B0053+47      dtws85     00:56:25.51          2  hlk+04     +47:56:10.5          3  hlk+04     0.472036662076           7  hlk+04     1.12

51    J0057-7201    ckm+01     00:57:44.0           4  ckm+01     -72:01:19            2  ckm+01     0.7380624426             2  ckm+01     3.48
52    J0058+6125    hrk+08     00:58                0  hrk+08     +61:25               0  hrk+08     0.637                    0  hrk+08     2.61
53    J0059+50      slr+14     00:59                2  slr+14     +50:02              18  slr+14     0.996009                61  slr+14     2.61
54    J0100-7211    lfmp02     01:00:43.03         11  mgr+05     -72:11:33.6          5  mgr+05     8.020392                 9  mgr+05     59.70
55    J0101-6422    kcj+12     01:01:11.1163        2  kcj+12     -64:22:30.171        2  kcj+12     0.0025731519721683       2  kcj+12     1.00

56    J0102+4839    hrm+11     01:03                0  hrm+11     +48:00               0  *          0.00296                  0  hrm+11     2.38
57    B0059+65      dbtb82     01:02:32.958        16  hlk+04     +65:37:13.40        11  hlk+04     1.679164229064          12  hlk+04     1.98
58    J0103+54      kkl+15     01:03:37            20  kkl+15     +54:02               5  kkl+15     0.354304                 6  kkl+15     2.01
59    J0106+4855    pga+12     01:06:25.06          1  pga+12     +48:55:51.8          2  pga+12     0.0831573050050          6  pga+12     3.06
60    J0108-1431    tnj+94     01:08:08.347016     88  dtbr09     -14:31:50.1871      11  dtbr09     0.807564614019          20  hlk+04     0.21

61    B0105+65      dls72      01:08:22.64          5  hlk+04     +66:08:34.0          3  hlk+04     1.2836598429             5  hlk+04     1.46
62    B0105+68      dtws85     01:08:29.50          2  hlk+04     +69:05:52.63        11  hlk+04     1.071118109859           5  hlk+04     1.98
63    J0111-7131    mfl+06     01:11:28.77          9  mfl+06     -71:31:46.8          6  mfl+06     0.68854151164            5  mfl+06     59.70
64    J0112+66      slr+14     01:12                3  slr+14     +66:22              18  slr+14     4.30124                 70  slr+14     2.42
65    J0113-7220    ckm+01     01:13:11.09          3  ckm+01     -72:20:32.20        15  ckm+01     0.32588301613            1  ckm+01     59.70

66    B0114+58      stwd85     01:17:38.661         3  hlk+04     +59:14:38.39         3  hlk+04     0.1014390664824         20  hlk+04     1.77
67    J0125+62      slr+14     01:26                3  slr+14     +62:35              18  slr+14     1.708233                98  slr+14     2.40
68    J0131-7310    mfl+06     01:31:28.51          3  mfl+06     -73:10:09.34        13  mfl+06     0.348124045581           7  mfl+06     59.70
69    J0133-6957    lml+98     01:33:32.46          1  dsb+98     -69:57:29.68         3  dsb+98     0.463473741703           3  dsb+98     2.44
70    J0134-2937    mld+96     01:34:18.6824        3  lwy+16     -29:37:17.042        7  lwy+16     0.136961610513651       14  lwy+16     25.00

71    J0136+63      slr+14     01:36                3  slr+14     +63:42              18  slr+14     0.717895                27  slr+14     9.12
72    J0137+1654    lxf+05     01:37:23.88          1  lxf+05     +16:54:42.1          4  lxf+05     0.4147630265082          5  lxf+05     3.06
73    J0139+33      ttm+18     01:39:10           120  ttm+18     +33:10              15  ttm+18     *                        0  *          1.47
74    J0139+5621    cvh+14     01:39:38.56          2  cvh+14     +56:21:36.8          4  cvh+14     1.77534382596           10  cvh+14     2.41
75    B0136+57      dth78      01:39:19.7401       12  cbv+09     +58:14:31.819       17  cbv+09     0.272450630950          15  hlk+04     2.60

76    B0138+59      mth72      01:41:39.938         8  hlk+04     +60:09:32.30         7  hlk+04     1.2229485205457         18  hlk+04     2.30
77    J0141+63      slr+14     01:41                2  slr+14     +63:08               8  slr+14     0.04668588              49  slr+14     8.77
78    J0146+31      ttol16     01:46:15            40  ttol16     +31:04              10  ttol16     0.9381                   0  ttol16     1.83
79    J0146+6145    ims94      01:46:22.42         10  pkw+03     +61:45:02.8          7  pkw+03     8.6889941                4  dk14       3.60
80    B0144+59      stwd85     01:47:44.6457       17  ywml10     +59:22:03.293       15  ywml10     0.19632137543003        16  ywml10     1.58

81    B0148-06      mlt+78     01:51:22.701        11  hlk+04     -06:35:02.8          4  hlk+04     1.464664549334           7  hlk+04     25.00
82    J0152+0948    clm+05     01:52:23.73          5  clm+05     +09:48:10            2  clm+05     2.74664729014           10  clm+05     2.48
83    B0149-16      mlt+78     01:52:10.8536       17  hlk+04     -16:37:52.99         4  hlk+04     0.8327416126878         13  hlk+04     0.92
84    J0156+04      dsm+16     01:56:01           114  dsm+16     +04:02               8  dsm+16     *                        0  *          25.00
85    B0153+39      dtws85     01:56:55.2           3  hlk+04     +39:49:29            5  hlk+04     1.81156061131           10  hlk+04     4.91

86    B0154+61      dls72      01:57:49.93          3  hlk+04     +62:12:25.90        17  hlk+04     2.35174493646            7  hlk+04     1.39
87    J0158+21      dsm+13     01:58:29            32  dsm+13     +21:08               8  dsm+13     0.5053                   0  dsm+13     1.57
88    J0201+7005    kkl+15     02:01:41.344         7  kkl+15     +70:05:18.11         6  kkl+15     1.349184471846          10  kkl+15     1.17
89    J0205+6449    mss+02     02:05:37.92247      15  bkr+13     +64:49:41.3343      10  bkr+13     0.06571592849324         9  lrc+09     3.20
90    B0203-40      mlt+78     02:06:01.268         9  smd93      -40:28:04.33        14  smd93      0.630550140847           6  smd93      1.26

91    J0211-8159    lml+98     02:11:59.0           3  dsb+98     -81:59:36.2          3  dsb+98     1.0773327013             8  dsb+98     1.52
92    J0212+5222    bck+13     02:12:52.2           6  bck+13     +52:22:45           13  bck+13     0.376386292              1  bck+13     1.56
93    J0214+5222    slr+14     02:14:55.2713       34  slr+14     +52:22:40.95        19  slr+14     0.02457529479071        22  slr+14     1.16
94    J0215+6218    llc98      02:15:56.626        10  hlk+04     +62:18:33.37        10  hlk+04     0.548879819155           3  hlk+04     2.00
95    J0218+4232    nbf+95     02:18:06.358569      4  dyc+14     +42:32:17.37515      8  dyc+14     0.00232309053151224      8  dcl+16     3.15

96    J0220+36      ttol16     02:20:50            60  ttol16     +36:22              15  ttol16     1.0297                   0  ttol16     2.25
97    J0229+20      dsm+13     02:29:03            32  dsm+13     +20:58               8  dsm+13     0.8069                   0  dsm+13     2.09
98    B0226+70      dtws85     02:31:13.99          3  hlk+04     +70:26:33.88        17  hlk+04     1.466820306152           7  hlk+04     1.76
99    J0241+16      dsm+13     02:41:46            31  dsm+13     +16:04               8  dsm+13     1.5454                   0  dsm+13     0.94
100   J0242+62      hrk+08     02:42:35             3  cvh+14     +62:56:50           36  cvh+14     0.592                    0  hrk+08     0.22

The peculiar numbers are links in the table to the referenced publications that are the sources of the data. Ignoring those, the output is pretty simple to parse (manually or via a script, if you want).

Some things to keep in mind:

  • Not all of the pulsars have all five parameters, so not all of the entries will be useful for you.
  • This isn't a complete list of all pulsars in the galaxy; it's just the most comprehensive one I know (and have used). We only know a small fraction of the total galactic pulsar population.
  • Keep your units in mind. Right ascension is given in hours-minutes-seconds format, declination is give in degrees-minutes-seconds format, and distances are in kiloparsecs.

This information should allow you to create a pulsar map for use within the Milky Way. It might not be terribly helpful, given our small (and incomplete) sample, but it's a start.

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  • $\begingroup$ This wouldn't"t work. Pulsars emit beamed radiation. If you go somewhere else in the Milky Way, you won't see them $\endgroup$ – Rob Jeffries Nov 4 '18 at 8:51
  • $\begingroup$ You both make good points. What would be better than a pulsar map? Black holes maybe? They spew x-rays in all directions iirc. I realized that the positions would still drift over cosmic time periods $\endgroup$ – Cygnus X-1 Nov 4 '18 at 19:09
  • $\begingroup$ @CygnusX-1 I have included that in my answer $\endgroup$ – Rob Jeffries Nov 4 '18 at 19:35
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The idea of a pulsar map that can be used anywhere in the Milky Way is probably a non-starter.

Pulsars emit beamed radiation. That is, the radiation is restricted to a relatively narrow cone that sweeps around like a light house. If you aren't within the cone, then you don't see the pulsar. We likely only see 10% of the existing pulsars in our neighborhood (e.g. Maciesiak et al. 2011).

Thus if you move any appreciable distance in the Milky Way you will see a quite different set of pulsars, $>90$% of which we don't even know about.

Now you might be able to recognise the small subset of known pulsars that are seen at some different point, except there is a further problem. These maps are not especially useful for posterity; they are only valid over a limited cosmic epoch as well as over a limited volume. The pulsar phenomenon switches off within a million years or so and pulsar periods and pulse shapes will change over a considerably shorter time than this. The few pulsars that can be seen here and at another point in the Milky Way might be unrecognisable in the future.

I would recommend the use of globular clusters for Milky Way mapping. Each one has a unique chemical composition mixture and HR diagram; they are more or less symmetrically distributed, can be observed over long distances, their distances can be estimated without a parallax, they will look the same tens of millions of years into the future and our catalogues are reasonably complete except on the other side of the Galactic centre.

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