Scott Manley's video Using Relativistic Raytracing &X-Rays To See Detail on Surface Of Neutron Star talks about X-ray measurements using the NICER X-ray telescope attached to the International Space Station (Wikipedia, in SE: 2 & 3), results which can also be read about in arXiv and these recent papers. Since I'm on Earth I'll need to use radio waves instead.

I understand the signal will be weak and below the noise for a small setup so I'll have to collect a lot of data and do some type of folding analysis. But before I can even make an estimate of signal and noise levels I'll need to choose a few "strong" pulsars and go look up their radio spectral distribution and compare it to thermal and and sky noise spectra.

Also based on frequency I can then know better what kind of antenna can be used; if I can get away with an array of wires like the early days or I'd need a dish.

Is there something like a "Top 10 pulsars of all time" site which has a characterization of some "popular" objects that may have strong signals that would also list their period?

Are there other issues I might not have thought about yet?


1 Answer 1


Interesting questions - I believe I have answers to them.

You mentioned folding analysis - yes, you will need to do folding analysis to find pulsars - the majority of pulsars are found with what are called prepfold plots - here is some software that is very popular, but you can do this yourself. The general principle is that if you separate a signal at a time interval equal to the period of the pulsar and stack the resulting sections of the signal, you're effectively doing the equivalent of "image stacking" as you would do with images you take in a camera, which will boost the signal to noise ratio of the pulsar you're trying to look at.

The best bet for a small setup would be the Vela pulsar - here is a list of significant pulsars. The Vela is the brightest pulsar in the radio part of the EM spectrum (as per the link, which is from Wikipedia, so take its reliability with a grain of salt), so I would assume that's your best bet in trying to detect a pulsar.

As for antennas or dishes, I would think a dish would work best. You're going to want some decently sensitive equipment to detect a pulsar, so I would recommend a proper dish made for collecting radio waves.

And lastly, you would want to consider which frequencies the target pulsar emits at and check which ones your receiver can collect.

I think you've pretty much covered all the other issues; now you just need supplies and money :).

  • $\begingroup$ I'm leaning towards a bunch of broad-band directional antennas like this or this or something else that can be built with wire and wood, and going down to something closer to 100 MHz than to 1 GHz. That would make everything easier and cheaper for me and my level of electronics skills, but this is still early. Thanks for your answer, yes I do have more reading to do and I'll check out the power spectrum of the Vela pulsar to see how low I can go in frequency. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Jan 5, 2020 at 3:09

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