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Studying neutron stars


Thomas Gold's explanation of pulsars
Hans Bethe Scientist
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It was observed that certain stars gave microwave radiation.

[Q] This was 1967 or...

Yes, 1967, and this microwave radiation comes out in pulses of remarkable regularity. People thought for a moment that maybe there was... were some intelligent beings which were trying to communicate with us by sending out these pulses. They come maybe 30 times a second or something like that, and with absolute regularity. The prime example was the Crab Nebula, which is the remnants of a supernova and at the center of such remnant there ought to be a neutron star.

So when the pulses were explained, the beginning of the explanation was given by Thomas Gold, professor of astronomy here. Namely he said 'Surely these pulses come from a neutron star, and the neutron star rotates, and the neutron star has a magnetic field and this magnetic field produces those pulses.'

The late German-American physicist Hans Bethe once described himself as the H-bomb's midwife. He left Nazi Germany in 1933, after which he helped develop the first atomic bomb, won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1967 for his contribution to the theory of nuclear reactions, advocated tighter controls over nuclear weapons and campaigned vigorously for the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

Listeners: Sam Schweber

Silvan Sam Schweber is the Koret Professor of the History of Ideas and Professor of Physics at Brandeis University, and a Faculty Associate in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University. He is the author of a history of the development of quantum electro mechanics, "QED and the men who made it", and has recently completed a biography of Hans Bethe and the history of nuclear weapons development, "In the Shadow of the Bomb: Oppenheimer, Bethe, and the Moral Responsibility of the Scientist" (Princeton University Press, 2000).

Tags: Crab Nebula, Thomas Gold

Duration: 1 minute, 48 seconds

Date story recorded: December 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008