As part of a National Science Foundation PIRE [Partnerships for International Research and Education] grant awarded to associate professor of physics Maura McLaughlin at West Virginia University, physics student and Marlinton native Natasha McMann is spending the summer in Bielefeld, Germany doing research in the radio astronomy department at the University of Bielefeld.
McMann is working closely with professors, undergrads and a grad student reviewing data from the past 15 to 20 years. Along with Dr. Joris Verbiest, of Belgium; Dr. Stefan Oslowski, of Poland; Dr. Jörn Künsemöller, of Germany; and Golam Shaifullah, a grad student from India; McMann is researching the Shapiro delay of pulsar J1640+2224.
“Pulsars are neutron stars that are spinning and have beams of radiation coming from their magnetic poles,” McMann explained. “It is like a lighthouse in the sky. If the beam is lined up with the Earth then we get a pulse every few moments. Neutron stars are the remnants of the core of massive starts after a supernova explosion. These stars are approximately eight to twenty-five times bigger than the sun.”
Most stars, including pulsar J1640+2224 come in pairs. This pulsar’s companion is a white dwarf. McMann is studying data collected from the observation of pulsar J1640+2224 in order to time the pulses of the star.
“The Shapiro delay is an effect that takes place on the pulsars arrival time to Earth,” she said. “Pulsars are really accurate clocks and their times can be measured extremely precisely. Since in binary systems, the pulsar goes behind its companion, the time it takes for a signal to reach Earth is delayed. This is because massive objects in space like stars and black holes bend space time around them. So, the white dwarf companion has bent space time and when the pulsar is behind the white dwarf, the signal from it arrives a bit later than normal because the signal has to travel around the white dwarf instead of in a straight line.”
The group McMann is working with hopes the information collected over the past 20 years will make it possible to determine the mass of the white dwarf and the pulsar.
“I am using data from Jodrell Bank in the UK, Nançay Telescope in France, the Effelsburg Telescope in Germany and Westerbork in the Netherlands,” she said. “In general, timing pulsars is very beneficial to the physics world. They have been used to prove Einstein’s theory of General Relativity to within ninety-nine percent accuracy and are now being used to search for gravitational waves, one of the last of Einstein’s theories, yet to be proven.”
While McMann is enjoying the research and meeting people in the astronomy department, she is also finding time to enjoy the sites and sounds of Bielefeld.
“When I am not working, I try to go see the sites,” she said. “Bielefeld has a vast array of museums and parks to go see. Plus, this is the 800th year anniversary of Bielefeld so there is a lot of excitement and activities. I have been to the animal park, the history museum and the oldest farmhouse in this area of Germany. I have been in the two oldest churches in Bielefeld, as well. Near the center of the city is the Sparrenburg Castle. I am planning on going to it in July when they have a Medieval festival.”
McMann is a rising junior at WVU. She is the daughter of Bill and Susie McMann, of Marlinton.
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org