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PSR B1919+21

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PSR B1919+21

Chart on which Jocelyn Bell Burnell first recognised evidence of PSR B1919+21, exhibited at Cambridge University Library
Observation data
Epoch J2000 (ICRS)      Equinox J2000 (ICRS)
Constellation Vulpecula
Right ascension 19h 21m 44.815s[1]
Declination +21° 53′ 02.25″[1]
Evolutionary stage Pulsar
[2] pc)
Mass~1.4 M
Radius~1.4 × 10−5 R
Luminosity0.006[3] L
Rotation1.3373 s[4]
Age16[3] Myr
Other designations
PSR J1921+2153, PSR 1921+2153, PSR B1919+21, PSR 1919+21, WSTB 12W15, CP 1919+21, CP 1919, LGM-1
Database references

PSR B1919+21 is a pulsar with a period of 1.3373 seconds[4] and a pulse width of 0.04 seconds. Discovered by Jocelyn Bell Burnell on 28 November 1967, it is the first discovered radio pulsar.[5] The power and regularity of the signals were briefly thought to resemble an extraterrestrial beacon, leading the source to be nicknamed LGM, later LGM-1 (for "little green men").[6]

The original designation of this pulsar was CP 1919, which stands for Cambridge Pulsar at RA 19h 19m .[7] It is also known as PSR J1921+2153 and is located in the constellation of Vulpecula.


In 1967, a radio signal was detected using the Interplanetary Scintillation Array of the Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory in Cambridge, UK, by Jocelyn Bell Burnell. The signal had a 1.337302088331-second period (not in 1967, but in 1991) and 0.04-second pulsewidth.[4] It originated at celestial coordinates 19h 19m right ascension, +21° declination. It was detected by individual observation of miles of graphical data traces. Due to its almost perfect regularity, it was at first assumed to be spurious noise, but this hypothesis was promptly discarded. The discoverers jokingly named it little green men 1 (LGM-1), considering that it may have originated from an extraterrestrial civilization, but Bell Burnell soon ruled out extraterrestrial life as a source after discovering a similar signal from another part of the sky.[6]

The original signal turned out to be radio emissions from the pulsar CP 1919, and was the first one recognized as such. Bell Burnell noted that other scientists could have discovered pulsars before her, but their observations were either ignored or disregarded. Researchers Thomas Gold and Fred Hoyle identified this astronomical object as a rapidly rotating neutron star immediately upon their announcement.[citation needed]

Before the nature of the signal was determined, the researchers, Bell Burnell and her PhD supervisor Antony Hewish, considered the possibility of extraterrestrial life:[8]

We did not really believe that we had picked up signals from another civilization, but obviously the idea had crossed our minds and we had no proof that it was an entirely natural radio emission. It is an interesting problem – if one thinks one may have detected life elsewhere in the universe[,] how does one announce the results responsibly? Who does one tell first?

Nobel Prize controversy[edit]

When Antony Hewish and Martin Ryle received the Nobel Prize in physics in 1974 for their work in radio astronomy and pulsars, Fred Hoyle, Hewish's fellow astronomer, argued that Jocelyn Bell Burnell should have been a co-recipient of the prize.[9]

In 2018, Bell won the $3-Million Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics for her work.[10]

Cultural references[edit]

The English post-punk band Joy Division used an image of CP 1919's radio pulses on the cover of their 1979 debut album, Unknown Pleasures.[11][12][13]

German-born British composer Max Richter wrote a piece inspired by the discovery of CP1919 titled Journey (CP1919).[14]

The English indie rock band Arctic Monkeys used a sound based on the pulses in their music video for "Four Out of Five."[15][16][better source needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Hobbs, G.; Lyne, A. G.; Kramer, M.; Martin, C. E.; Jordan, C. (2004). "Long-term timing observations of 374 pulsars". Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. 353 (4): 1311. Bibcode:2004MNRAS.353.1311H. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2966.2004.08157.x.
  2. ^ Verbiest, J. P. W.; Weisberg, J. M.; Chael, A. A.; Lee, K. J.; Lorimer, D. R. (2012). "On Pulsar Distance Measurements and Their Uncertainties". The Astrophysical Journal. 755 (1): 39. arXiv:1206.0428. Bibcode:2012ApJ...755...39V. doi:10.1088/0004-637X/755/1/39. S2CID 118610470.
  3. ^ a b "The ATNF Pulsar Catalogue". Retrieved 2010-02-11.
  4. ^ a b c Arzoumanian, Z.; Nice, D. J.; Taylor, J. H.; Thorsett, S. E. (1994). "Timing behavior of 96 radio pulsars". Astrophysical Journal. 422 (2): 671. Bibcode:1994ApJ...422..671A. doi:10.1086/173760.
  5. ^ "Pulsar is 1st observed, November 28, 1967". EDN Network. Retrieved 2013-12-20.
  6. ^ a b "This Month in Physics History: February 1968: Discovery of pulsars announced". www.aps.org.
  7. ^ Basu, Baidyanath (2003-02-01). An Introduction to Astrophysics. p. 325. ISBN 978-81-203-1121-3.
  8. ^ Burnell, S. Jocelyn Bell (2004-09-21) [1977]. "Little Green Men, White Dwarfs or Pulsars?". Cosmic Search Magazine. Retrieved 2013-07-28. (after-dinner speech given at the Eighth Texas Symposium on Relativistic Astrophysics; first published in Bell Burnell, S. Jocelyn (1977). "Petit Four". Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 302: 685–9. Bibcode:1977NYASA.302..685B. doi:10.1111/j.1749-6632.1977.tb37085.x. S2CID 222086632.)
  9. ^ Judson, Horace Freeland (2003-10-20). "No Nobel Prize for whining". The New York Times.
  10. ^ Billings, Lee. "Pulsar Discoverer Jocelyn Bell Burnell Wins $3-Million Breakthrough Prize". Scientific American. Retrieved 2021-08-03.
  11. ^ Capriola, Adam (2011-05-19). "The History of Joy Division's "Unknown Pleasures" Album Art". Adamcap.com. Retrieved 2013-06-28.
  12. ^ "Unknown Pleasures". Joy Division. June 1979. Retrieved 2008-07-05.
  13. ^ Christiansen, Jen (2015-02-18). "Pop Culture Pulsar: Origin Story of Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures Album Cover". Scientific American. Retrieved 2015-10-04.
  14. ^ "Journey (CP1919) Performed by Aurora Orchestra". 2019-05-16. Retrieved 2019-05-20.
  15. ^ "Arctic Monkeys - Four Out Of Five (Official Video)". YouTube. from 0:16-0:45 and 2:57-3:13.
  16. ^ "The Great Silence by LEMMiNO". YouTube. from 0:05-1:16

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]