This visualization was created for the Transmutations exhibition at the Gray Area Foundation for the Arts (gaffta.org/).
Each object in this visualization is a pulsar. Pulsars are neutron
stars -- the ultra-dense remnants of collapsed stars. Neutron stars
typically have a mass greater than our sun, but a radius of only about
10 miles! Like a figure-skater pulling in her arms to spin faster, a
slowly rotating star can end up spinning very fast after it collapses
into a neutron star (up to hundreds of times per second!). A neutron
star may emit a beam of intense radiation which points in different
directions as it spins. From earth, it looks like the star is
blinking on and off as the beam is pointed toward and away from us.
This called a pulsar.
The objects in the visualization correspond to observed pulsars from
the ATNF Pulsar Catalogue
(atnf.csiro.au/research/pulsar/psrcat). Each pulsar
appears at its observed coordinates in the galactic plane and is
blinking at its observed frequency. The color is based on the
frequency of radio waves emitted by the pulsar: redder points emit
more low-frequency radio waves, while bluer points emit more
high-frequency radio waves.
A clock appears in the top right corner of the screen and is ticking
at a rate of once per second in the time-frame of the visualization.
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