, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp 187-207

Millisecond pulsars

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Abstract

In 1982 we discovered a pulsar with the phenomenal rotation rate of 642 Hz, 20 times faster than the spin rate of the Crab pulsar. The absence of supernova debris in the vicinity of the pulsar at any wavelength indicates an age of the neutron star greater than 105 yr. The miniscule spindown rate of 1.1 × 10-19 confirms the old age and indicates a surface magnetic field of 109 G. A second millisecond pulsar was discovered by Boriakoff, Buccheri & Fauci (1983) in a 120-day orbit. These fast pulsars may have been spun-up by mass transfer in a close binary evolutionary stage. Arrival-time observations of the 642-Hz pulsar display remarkably low residuals over the first 14 months. The stability implied by these observations, 3 × 10-14, suggests that millisecond pulsars will provide the most accurate basis for terrestrial dynamical time. If so, the pulsar data will lead to improvements in the planetary ephemeris and to new searches for light-year scale gravitational waves. Many new searches for fast pulsars are under way since previous sky surveys excluded pulsars with spins above 60 Hz.