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Title: The transient radio sky
Author: Keane, Evan
ISNI:       0000 0003 5749 2029
Awarding Body: University of Manchester
Current Institution: University of Manchester
Date of Award: 2010
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The high time-resolution radio sky represents unexplored astronomical territory where the discovery potential is high. In this thesis I have studied the transient radio sky, focusing on millisecond scales. As such, this work is concerned primarily with neutron stars, the most populous member of the radio transient parameter space. In particular, I have studied the well known radio pulsars and the recently identified group of neutron stars which show erratic radio emission, known as RRATs, which show radio bursts every few minutes to every few hours. When RRATs burst onto the scene in 2006, it was thought that they represented a previously unknown, distinct class of sporadically emitting sources. The difficulty in their identification implies a large underlying population, perhaps larger than the radio pulsars. The first question investigated in this thesis was whether the large projected population of RRATs posed a problem, i.e. could the observed supernova rate account for so many sources. In addition to pulsars and RRATs, the various other known neutron star manifestations were considered, leading to the conclusion that distinct populations would result in a 'birthrate problem'. Evolution between the classes could solve this problem - the RRATs are not a distinct population of neutron stars. Alternatively, perhaps the large projected population of RRATs is an overestimate. To obtain an improved estimate, the best approach is to find more sources. The Parkes Multi-beam Pulsar Survey, wherein the RRATs were initially identified, offered an opportunity to do just this. About half of the RRATs showing bursts during the survey were thought to have been missed, due to the deleterious effects of impulsive terrestrial interference signals. To remove these unwanted signals, so that we could identify the previously shrouded RRATs, we developed new interference mitigation software and processing techniques. Having done this, the survey was completely re-processed, resulting in the discovery of 19 new sources. Of these, 12 have been re-detected on multiple occasions, whereas the others have not been seen to re-emit since the initial discovery observations, and may be very low burst-rate RRATs, or, isolated burst events. These discoveries suggest that the initial population estimate was not over-estimated - RRATs, though not a distinct population, are indeed numerous. In addition to finding new sources, characterisation of their properties is vital. To this end, a campaign of regular radio observations of the newly discovered sources, was mounted, at the Parkes Observatory, in Australia. In addition, some of the initially identified RRATs were observed with the Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank. These have revealed glitches in J1819-1458, with anomalous post-glitch recovery of the spin-down rate. If such glitches were common, it would imply that the source was once a magnetar, neutron stars with the strongest known magnetic fields of up to 10¹⁵ gauss. The observations have also been used to perform 'timing' observations of RRATs, i.e. determination of their spin-down characteristics. At the beginning of this thesis, 3 of the original sources had 'timing solutions' determined. This has since risen to 7, and furthermore, 7 of the newly discovered sources now also have timing solutions. With this knowledge, we can see where RRATs lie in period-period derivative space. The Parkes RRATs seem to be roughly classifiable into three groupings, with high observed nulling fractions - normal pulsars, high magnetic field pulsars and old, 'dying' pulsars. It seems that RRATs and pulsars are one and the same. When a pulsar is more easily detected in searches for single bright pulses, as opposed to in periodicity searches, we label it a RRAT. Such searches impart a selection effect on the parameter space of possible sources, in both nulling fraction and rotation period. In this sense, an observational setup could be designed to make any pulsar appear as a RRAT. For realistic survey parameters however, this is not the case, and the groups mentioned above seem to be the most likely to appear as RRATs. In fact, we can utilise RRAT searches to identify neutron stars, difficult to find by other means, in particular high-magnetic field pulsars, and pulsars approaching the pulsar "death valley". Some of the RRATs are well explained as being distant/weak pulsars with a high modulation index, others seem to be nulling pulsars. This highlights the incomplete knowledge of nulling behaviour in the pulsar population. It seems that there may be a continuum of nulling durations, under a number of guises, from 'nulling pulsars' to 'RRATs' to 'intermittent pulsars'. In fact this nulling may fit into the emerging picture, whereby pulsar magnetospheres switch between stable configurations.
Supervisor: Kramer, Michael ; Stappers, Benjamin Sponsor: My research was supported by a Marie Curie EST Fellowship in the FP6 Network "ESTRELA", under contract number MEST-CT-2005-19669
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Astrophysics ; Neutron Stars ; Pulsars ; Radio Astronomy ; RRATs ; Pulsar Searches ; Pulsar Timing