The Mother of Pulsars: Jocelyn Bell Burnell and the squiggle that changed science

Jocelyn Bell Burnell in 1968.


Daily Herald Archive/SSPL/Getty Images

In 1967, when she was just 24 years old, Jocelyn Bell Burnell saw a quarter-inch-long “squiggle” on a piece of paper that would change her life and reshape the course of astrophysics. 

Bell Burnell was working on her Ph.D. at Cambridge at the time, reading signals from a radio telescope in the hope of finding quasars — supermassive black holes, millions of times the size of our sun, that spew out huge amounts of energy from billions of light-years away. 

As part of her Ph.D. research, Bell Burnell had helped build a telescope to receive these signals from across the universe. It was known as the Interplanetary Scintillation Array — a radio telescope made up of 2,000 metal antennas and 120 miles of cable and wires, all strung up on more than 1,000 wooden posts. The entire thing covered an area

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Jocelyn Bell Burnell and the squiggle that changed science

In 1967, when she was just 24 years old, Jocelyn Bell Burnell saw a quarter-inch-long “squiggle” on a piece of paper that would change her life and reshape the course of astrophysics. 



a woman wearing sunglasses posing for the camera: Jocelyn Bell Burnell in 1968. Daily Herald Archive/SSPL/Getty Images


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Jocelyn Bell Burnell in 1968. Daily Herald Archive/SSPL/Getty Images

Bell Burnell was working on her Ph.D. at Cambridge at the time, reading signals from a radio telescope in the hope of finding quasars — supermassive black holes, millions of times the size of our sun, that spew out huge amounts of energy from billions of light-years away. 

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As part of her Ph.D. research, Bell Burnell had helped build a telescope to receive these signals from across the universe. It was known as the Interplanetary Scintillation Array — a radio telescope made up of 2,000 metal antennas and 120 miles of cable and wires, all strung up on more than 1,000 wooden posts.

Read More
Read More