(Susan) Jocelyn Bell Burnell
(1943)

 

British astronomer. In 1967 she discovered the first pulsar (rapidly flashing star) with Antony Hewish and colleagues at Cambridge University, England.

Jocelyn Bell was born in Belfast, near the Armagh Observatory, where she spent much time as a child. She was educated at Glasgow and Cambridge universities. It was while a research student at Cambridge that the discovery of pulsars was made. Between 1968 and 1982 she did research in gamma-ray astronomy at the University of Southampton and in X-ray astronomy at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College London. Then she worked on infrared and optical astronomy at the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh. In 1991 she was appointed professor of physics at the Open University, Milton Keynes.
Bell spent her first two years in Cambridge building a radio telescope that was specially designed to track quasars. The telescope had the ability to record rapid variations in signals. In 1967 she noticed an unusual signal, which turned out to be composed of a rapid set of pulses that occurred precisely every 1.337 sec. One attempted explanation of this curious phenomenon was that it emanated from an interstellar beacon, so initially it was nicknamed LGM, for Little Green Men. Within a few months, however, Bell located three other similar sources. They too pulsed at an extremely regular rate but their periods varied over a few fractions of a second and they all originated from widely spaced locations in our Galaxy. Thus it seemed that a more likely explanation of the signals was that they were being emitted by a special kind of star - a pulsar.


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