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Gravitational Constant is Universal: Pulsar Reveals Consistency in the Universe

First Posted: Aug 06, 2015 05:24 PM EDT
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Scientists have made a huge step forward for physics. Scientists have produced the best ever constraint of the gravitational constant measured outside of our solar system.

Why does this even matter? Gravity is one of the four fundamental forces of nature, which means that it's used to make calculations both on Earth and in space. Understanding it is huge for calculating how best to send spacecraft to other planets.

In this latest study, astronomers used the Green Bank Telescope (GBT) in order to precisely measure the pulses of a pulsar known as PSR J1713+0747. This painstaking research produced the best constraint ever of the gravitational constant measured outside of our solar system.

Pulsars are rapidly spinning, super dense remains of massive stars that detonated as supernovas. They are detected from Earth by the beams of radio waves that emanate from their magnetic poles and sweep across space as the pulsar rotates.

In this case, the researchers looked at a pulsar about 3,750 light-years from Earth. It orbits a companion white dwarf star and is one of the brightest, most stable pulsars known. Previous studies show that it takes about 68 days for the pulsar to orbit its white dwarf companion. This separation was essential to know since the effect of gravitational radiation is incredibly small and would have negligible impact on the orbit of the pulsar.

"The uncanny consistency of this stellar remnant offers intriguing evidence that the fundamental force of gravity-the big 'G' of physics-remains rock-solid throughout space," said Weiwei Zhu, one of the researchers, in a news release. "This is an observation that has important implications in cosmology and some of the fundamental forces of physics."

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