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Discovery of Pulsars

radio beams from dead stars East Anglia,

A young woman (Bell) in front of a large circular receiving dish.
Jocelyn Bell photographed in 1968 outside the Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory at the University of Cambridge. National Media Museum/ Science & Society Picture Library

These cosmic lighthouses were found by accident while a University of Cambridge team was looking for twinkling sources of radio radiation. In 1967 student Jocelyn Bell (born 1943) was using the university’s four-acre array telescope, designed by her supervisor Tony Hewish (born 1924), and noticed a regular pulse in her data. 

At first the pulses seemed too regular to be anything other than man-made; a satellite off course, for example. Having double-checked their results, Bell and Hewish realised that the unusual signal was coming from outer space and was a new class of cosmic object. 

Initially, these objects were nicknamed LGM for ‘little green men’. But rather than aliens, it was soon realised that these signals or ‘pulsars’ were actually radio beams from rapidly spinning, very dense dead stars called ‘neutron stars’. Astronomers have since detected more than 1800 pulsars.

Science Museum

East Anglia
University of Cambridge
Key Individuals
Jocelyn Bell, Tony Hewish,