Astronomers at ASTRON demonstrated the feasibility of a new receiver technology by simultaneously detecting the radio signals of two widely separated pulsars – the observation will have a great impact on radio astronomy.

This achievement is part of the development of a new wide-field radio camera, Apertif, for the Westerbork Synthesis Radio Telescope (WSRT).

Pulsars are cosmic lighthouses. They are collapsed stars about as massive as the Sun but squeezed into a size of only 15 km across and which have an incredibly strong magnetic field.

They spin around very fast, many of them even more than 10 times in a second. They emit beams of radiation, which are detected as a pulsed radio signals.

"The possibility of simultaneous observations of more than one pulsar opens up completely new ways for pulsar research. Pulsars are among the most extreme and interesting objects in the sky, and the new radio camera will lead to the discovery of many hundreds of new pulsars," said researcher Dr. Joeri van Leeuwen.

Dr. Tom Oosterloo, co-Principal Investigator of Apertif, added, "Observations which would take a month with the old WSRT can now be completed in a single day! This increase in observing speed will no doubt lead to many exciting discoveries, not only of pulsars, but also of galaxies, transient sources and potentially new, as yet undiscovered, cosmic phenomena."

"There has been an overwhelming response to our call for expressions of interest in Apertif, and it is clear that the WSRT-Apertif combination will have an extremely busy calendar," agreed Dr. Rene Vermeulen, director of the Radio Observatory at ASTRON.

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