Three high school students have discovered a pulsar, which may be a rare kind of neutron star called a “recycled pulsar.”

These students are participants in the Pulsar Search Collaboratory program, jointly run by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and West Virginia University physics professors Maura McLaughlin and Duncan Lorimer.

Pulsars are spinning neutron stars which act as celestial lighthouses, emitting beams of radio waves as they spin.

Virginia high school students, Alexander Snider and Casey Thompson, discovered the pulsar on Jan. 20, and a day later, it was found by a Kentucky high school student Hannah Mabry.

“We took the data the students are looking at with the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in the summer of 2007. We train students on how to interpret the data and look for pulsars both online and during a summer workshop at Green Bank each year,” McLaughlin said. About 300 hours of observing data were reserved for analysis by student teams.

“The students all visit WVU each May for a ‘capstone’ event where they present their work,” she said. “In addition to giving them a forum for sharing their research, we introduced them to science and engineering labs at WVU.”

As part of the program, the students analyze real data from the Green Bank Telescope to find pulsars. The students’ teachers – Debra Edwards of Sherando High School, Leah Lorton of James River High School and Jennifer Carter of Rowan County Senior High School – all introduced the program in their classes. Interested students formed teams to continue the work. Thompson, Snider and Mabry have been working with about 170 students across the country.

Once the pulsar candidate was reported, Project Director Rachel Rosen took a look and agreed with the young scientists. A follow up observing session was scheduled on the telescope. Snider and Mabry traveled to West Virginia to assist in the follow-up observations.

The program is funded through a grant from the National Science Foundation and will continue through 2011. Teachers interested in participating in the program can learn more at .


CONTACT: Rebecca Herod, Eberly College of Arts and Sciences
304-293-7405, ext. 5251,