LIGO Observations Probe the Dynamics of the Crab Pulsar

The search for gravitational waves has revealed new information about the core of one of the most famous objects in the sky: the Crab Pulsar in the Crab Nebula. An analysis by the international LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) Scientific Collaboration to be submitted to Astrophysical Journal Letters has shown that no more than 4 percent of the energy loss of the pulsar is caused by the emission of gravitational waves.

The Crab Nebula, located 6,500 light years away in the constellation Taurus, was formed in a spectacular supernova explosion in 1054. According to ancient sources, including Chinese texts that referred to it as a "guest star," the explosion was visible in daylight for more than three weeks, and may briefly have been brighter than the full moon. At the heart of the nebula remains an incredibly rapidly spinning neutron star that sweeps two narrow radio beams across the Earth each time it turns. The lighthouse-like radio pulses have given the star the name "pulsar."

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