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The most accurate clocks in space

Our knowledge of millisecond pulsars has greatly increased in recent years. This is largely thanks to the success of a large-scale survey that has added new members to the known population of these celestial objects.
The most accurate clocks in space
Millisecond pulsars spin with such amazing regularity that they are considered among the most accurate clocks in the universe. Using these celestial timekeepers, astronomers can find answers to long-standing questions about stars and spacetime that would otherwise be impossible. Because the pulses are so reliable, even the tiniest deviations can reveal what is going on inside and around the pulsars as well as in the space between stars.

Recently, astronomers embarked on an ambitious survey of such pulses that allow them to probe the interstellar medium. With funding of the project CLOCKS AND BURSTS (Searching for nature's best clocks and extragalactic millisecond transients with large interferometric arrays: From the GMRT to the SKA), they analysed the data wealth of the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT).

The GMRT, operating at metre wavelengths, is an array of 30 steerable 45-m-diameter antennas, spread out over a 30-km region near Pune in western India. At present, as part of an upgrade, its frequency coverage is increased to cover from 130 to 1 500 MHz seamlessly.

The ongoing upgrade will make the GMRT one of the most sensitive telescopes in the world. Its current field of view allowed astronomers to explore mid- and high-galactic latitudes where the sensitivity is not limited by the sky background and to detect millisecond pulsars.

In addition, the sensitivity of the GMRT combined with its flexible software back end made it an ideal instrument for searching extragalactic radio bursts in the southern sky. The team applied artificial neural network based techniques to classify candidate pulsars from the interference signals. The CLOCK AND BURSTS team also developed imaging techniques for precise localisation of the pulsars and other millisecond transients. CLOCK AND BURSTS discoveries are detailed in a paper uploaded on arXiv and include a millisecond pulsar.

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Millisecond pulsars, interstellar medium, CLOCKS AND BURSTS, Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope, artificial neural networks
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