Transiting Extrasolar Planets - Established Detection Methods - Pulsar Timing

Pulsar Timing

See also: List of extrasolar planets detected by timing

A pulsar is a neutron star: the small, ultradense remnant of a star that has exploded as a supernova. Pulsars emit radio waves extremely regularly as they rotate. Because the intrinsic rotation of a pulsar is so regular, slight anomalies in the timing of its observed radio pulses can be used to track the pulsar's motion. Like an ordinary star, a pulsar will move in its own small orbit if it has a planet. Calculations based on pulse-timing observations can then reveal the parameters of that orbit.

This method was not originally designed for the detection of planets, but is so sensitive that it is capable of detecting planets far smaller than any other method can, down to less than a tenth the mass of Earth. It is also capable of detecting mutual gravitational perturbations between the various members of a planetary system, thereby revealing further information about those planets and their orbital parameters. In addition, it can easily detect planets which are relatively far away from pulsar.

The main drawback of the pulsar-timing method is that pulsars are relatively rare (they are too small to be discovered in a mass number, therefore are seen as rare celestial bodies), so it is unlikely that a large number of planets will be found this way. Also, life as we know it could not survive on planets orbiting pulsars since high-energy radiation there is extremely intense.

In 1992 Aleksander Wolszczan and Dale Frail used this method to discover planets around the pulsar PSR 1257+12. Their discovery was quickly confirmed, making it the first confirmation of planets outside our Solar System.

Read more about this topic:  Transiting Extrasolar Planets, Established Detection Methods

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