High-school student discovers strange astronomical object

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Washington, September 23 (ANI): A high-school student from West Virginia, US, analyzing data from a giant radio telescope, has discovered a new astronomical object - a strange type of neutron star called a rotating radio transient.

Lucas Bolyard, a sophomore at South Harrison High School in Clarksburg, WV, made the discovery while participating in a project in which students are trained to scrutinize data from the National Science Foundation's giant Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT).

The project, called the Pulsar Search Collaboratory (PSC), is a joint project of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) and West Virginia University (WVU), funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

Bolyard made the discovery in March, after he already had studied more than 2,000 data plots from the GBT and found nothing.

"I was home on a weekend and had nothing to do, so I decided to look at some more plots from the GBT," he said.

"I saw a plot with a pulse, but there was a lot of radio interference, too. The pulse almost got dismissed as interference," he added.

Nonetheless, he reported it, and it went on a list of candidates for West Virginia University astronomers Maura McLaughlin and Duncan Lorimer to re-examine, scheduling new observations of the region of sky from which the pulse came.

Disappointingly, the follow-up observations showed nothing, indicating that the object was not a normal pulsar.

However, the astronomers explained to Bolyard that his pulse still might have come from a rotating radio transient.

Confirmation didn't come until July. Bolyard was at the NRAO's Green Bank Observatory with fellow PSC students. he night before, the group had been observing with the GBT in the wee hours, and all were very tired.

Then, Lorimer showed Bolyard a new plot of his pulse, reprocessed from raw data, indicating that it is real, not interference, and that Bolyard is likely the discoverer of one of only about 30 rotating radio transients known.

Rotating radio transients are thought to be similar to pulsars, superdense neutron stars that are the corpses of massive stars that exploded as supernovae.

Pulsars are known for their lighthouse-like beams of radio waves that sweep through space as the neutron star rotates, creating a pulse as the beam sweeps by a radio telescope.

While pulsars emit these radio waves continuously, rotating radio transients emit only sporadically, one burst at a time, with as much as several hours between bursts. (ANI)

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