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Transient radio bursts from rotating neutron stars


The radio sky is relatively unexplored for transient signals1, although the potential of radio-transient searches is high. This was demonstrated recently by the discovery of a previously unknown type of source2,3, varying on timescales of minutes to hours. Here we report a search for radio sources that vary on much shorter timescales. We found eleven objects characterized by single, dispersed bursts having durations between 2 and 30 ms. The average time intervals between bursts range from 4 min to 3 h with radio emission typically detectable for <1 s per day. From an analysis of the burst arrival times, we have identified periodicities in the range 0.4–7 s for ten of the eleven sources, suggesting origins in rotating neutron stars. Despite the small number of sources detected at present, their ephemeral nature implies a total Galactic population significantly exceeding that of the regularly pulsing radio pulsars. Five of the ten sources have periods >4 s, and the rate of change of the pulse period has been measured for three of them; for one source, we have inferred a high magnetic field strength of 5 × 1013 G. This suggests that the new population is related to other classes of isolated neutron stars observed at X-ray and γ-ray wavelengths4.

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Figure 1: The observational signatures of the new radio transient sources.
Figure 2: The rotational properties of neutron stars summarized in a P diagram.


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The Parkes radio telescope is part of the Australia Telescope, which is funded by the Commonwealth of Australia for operation as a National Facility managed by CSIRO. A.P. and N.D'A. acknowledge financial support from the Italian Ministry of University and Research (MIUR). F.C. is supported by NSF, NASA and NRAO. D.R.L. is a University Research Fellow funded by the Royal Society. I.H.S. holds an NSERC UFA and is supported by a discovery grant.

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Correspondence to M. A. McLaughlin.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Figure 1

Burst observational signatures in frequency and time. (PDF 1723 kb)

Supplementary Figure 2

Typical burst intensities. (PDF 775 kb)

Supplementary Figure Legends

Full text to accompany the above Supplementary Figures. (PDF 49 kb)

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McLaughlin, M., Lyne, A., Lorimer, D. et al. Transient radio bursts from rotating neutron stars. Nature 439, 817–820 (2006).

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