50 years of pulsar astronomy

The first pulsar – a spinning neutron star, beaming out radio waves – was discovered 50 years ago. This Nature Astronomy Collection celebrates that discovery and subsequent developments by combining retrospectives with forward-looking articles. It includes a Perspective from Jocelyn Bell-Burnell, one of the original discoverers, and another from Andrew Lyne, one of the early pioneers of pulsar astronomy. In the present, our Mission Control article gives an overview of NICER, an instrument on the International Space Station searching for neutron stars and pulsars. We look to the future to see how pulsar arrays will be used to detect gravitational waves and how the pulsars in the Galactic Centre can be used to weigh our supermassive black hole and probe the properties of spacetime. One of the research papers in the Collection reports the discovery of rapid optical pulsations from a millisecond pulsar, the significance of which is explained further in its accompanying News & Views article.