The British astronomer Jocelyn Bell Burnell discovered pulsars while completing her PhD at Cambridge University in the late 1960s. Using a radio telescope designed by her advisor Anthony Hewish and Martin Ryle (both men later shared a Nobel prize for their work), Bell Burnell found strange radio pulses coming from a single point in the sky.
After a period of confusion about what was causing the pulses, Bell Burnell and her colleagues confirmed that pulsars, as the sources of pulses came to be known, are emitted by rapidly spinning neutron stars.
Image: Jocelyn Bell Burnell in 1977 (credit: Robin Scagell/SPL)
A British astronomer finds strange pulses coming from space.
Jocelyn Bell Burnell explains how pulsars tested Einstein's theory.
Jocelyn Bell Burnell explains how her pulsar discovery helped test general relativity. She also discusses the difference between a search for truth and a search for understanding.
Jocelyn Bell Burnell's discovery paves the way for black holes' acceptance.
Jocelyn Bell Burnell's discovery of pulsars paved the way for the acceptance of black holes as a serious idea.
Jocelyn Bell Burnell explains what they are and how they got their name.
Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell explains what pulsars are and how they got their name.
The discoverer of pulsars explains that science isn't always orderly.
Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, the discoverer of pulsars, explains that science isn't always orderly.
Jocelyn Bell, interviewed in 1971, describes her discovery.
Jocelyn Bell (now Jocelyn Bell Burnell), interviewed in 1971, describes how she discovered pulsars. Her supervisor, Anthony Hewish, later shared a Nobel prize with Martin Ryle for their work in radio astronomy. Controversially, Bell Burnell did not share the prize.
Dame (Susan) Jocelyn Bell Burnell, DBE, FRS, FRAS (born 15 July 1943) is a Northern Irish astrophysicist. As a postgraduate student, she discovered the first radio pulsars while under her thesis supervisor Antony Hewish, for which Hewish shared the Nobel Prize in Physics with Martin Ryle, while Bell Burnell was left out despite having observed the pulsars. Bell Burnell was President of the Royal Astronomical Society from 2002 to 2004, president of the Institute of Physics from October 2008 until October 2010, and was interim president following the death of her successor, Marshall Stoneham, in early 2011. She was succeeded in October 2011 by Sir Peter Knight.
The paper announcing the discovery of pulsars had five authors. Hewish's name was listed first, Bell's second. Hewish was awarded the Nobel Prize, along with Martin Ryle, without the inclusion of Bell as a co-recipient. Many prominent astronomers expressed outrage at this omission, including Sir Fred Hoyle. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, in their press release announcing the 1974 Nobel Prize in Physics, cited Ryle and Hewish for their pioneering work in radio-astrophysics, with particular mention of Ryle's work on aperture-synthesis technique, and Hewish's decisive role in the discovery of pulsars. Dr. Iosif Shklovsky, recipient of the 1972 Bruce Medal, had sought out Bell at the 1970 International Astronomical Union's General Assembly, to tell her: "Miss Bell, you have made the greatest astronomical discovery of the twentieth century."