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Searching Pulsars for Planets

27 Apr 2020, 16:00 UTC
Searching Pulsars for Planets
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Are there more hidden exoplanets lurking around extreme pulsar hosts? A recent study explores a well-observed set of pulsars in the hunt for planetary companions.
Ushering in the Age of Exoplanets
An artist’s illustration showing a network of pulsars whose precisely timed flashes of light are observed from Earth. Could some of these pulsars host planets? [David Champion/NASA/JPL]The first planets ever confirmed beyond our solar system were discovered in 1992 around the pulsar PSR B1257+12. By studying the pulses from this spinning, magnetized neutron star, scientists confirmed the presence of two small orbiting companions. Two years later, a third planet was found in the same system — and it seemed that pulsars showed great promise as hosts for exoplanets.
But then the discoveries slowed. Other detection methods, such as radial velocity and transits, dominated the emerging exoplanet scene. Of the more than 4,000 confirmed exoplanets we’ve discovered overall, a grand total of only six have been found orbiting pulsars.
Is this dearth because pulsar planets are extremely rare? Or have we just not performed enough systematic searches for pulsar planets? A new study led by Erica Behrens (The Ohio State University) addresses this question by using a unique dataset to ...

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