One last look at another accidental Nobel Prize winner… yup, Pulsars!
Back in 1967, PhD student Jocelyn Bell was testing out a new technique for finding quasars – ‘quasi stellar’ objects in our universe which emit a typical pattern of radio waves. Bell did find quasars but she also got more than she’d bargained for.
Bell hunted quasars using a radio telescope which scanned the entire sky, producing a 30 metre long chart each day. Her main task was to pore over these charts and look out for the characteristic twinkle of a quasar.
Two months in, she noticed an unusual signal that resembled nothing that either she or her supervisor, Anthony Hewish, had seen before. Pulses of radio waves were being emitted from a fixed point in the sky, at eerily regular 1.3 second intervals. The idea even crossed their minds that this could be attempts at communication from a distant alien civilisation.
Further observation revealed three more similar pulsing sources, or pulsars. These turned out to be spinning neutron stars, the remains of supernova explosions.
Controversially, Hewish was awarded a share of the 1974 Nobel prize for their work, but Bell was not credited.