Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star

Yesterday marked the 29th anniversary of the announcement by British astronomer Antony Hewish of the discovery of pulsars--stars that emit regular bursts of radio waves. At the time, some British tabloids reported that scientists had contacted alien civilizations. Using a radio telescope designed by Hewish to detect radio signals that "twinkle," his colleague, Irish astronomer Jocelyn Susan Bell Burnell, noticed in August 1967 a source that gave off short, regular, rapid bursts of energy--a signal coming from something very small and very far away. Bell Burnell later found other similar signals in the telescope charts. Hewish received the 1974 Nobel Prize in physics for his pioneering contributions to radio astronomy, including his role in the discovery of pulsating stars, which turned out to be neutron stars--the compact, spinning inner cores of stars that had died and exploded as supernovae.

[Source: Emily McMurray, Ed., Notable Twentieth Century Scientists (Gale Research Inc., ITP, 1995)]

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