Binary pulsar PSR B1913+16

compiled by Wm. Robert Johnston
last updated 30 August 2004

The binary pulsar PSR B1913+16 (=J1915+1606) was discovered in the summer of 1974 by Russell A. Hulse (Univ. of Massachusetts/Amherst, later Princeton Univ.) and Joseph H. Taylor (Princeton Univ.). Also known as the Hulse-Taylor binary pulsar, it comprises two neutron stars closely orbiting their common center of mass. One of these neutron stars is detected as a pulsar.

The subsequent study of this binary has provided the strongest evidence to date for the existence of gravitational waves. General relativity predicts that such a system will radiate energy in the form of gravitational waves, causing the stars to slowly spiral towards each other. In 1982 Hulse and Taylor could report, after eight years of observation, that the system was losing energy and inspiralling at the rate predicted by Einstein's general relativity.

Data on the PSR B1913+16 system:

Right ascension19h13m12.4655s
Distance21,000 light years
Mass of detected pulsar1.441 MSun
Mass of companion1.387 MSun
Rotational period of detected pulsar59.02999792988 millisec
Diameter of each neutron star20 km
Orbital period7.751939106 hr
Semimajor axis1,950,100 km
Periastron separation746,600 km
Apastron separation3,153,600 km
Orbital velocity of stars at periastron
(relative to center of mass)
450 km/sec
Orbital velocity of stars at apastron
(relative to center of mass)
110 km/sec
Rate of decrease of orbital period0.0000765 sec per year
Rate of decrease of semimajor axis3.5 meters per year
Calculated lifetime (to final inspiral)300,000,000 years

Here is a list of pulsars in binary systems.

Press release announcing awarding of 1993 Nobel prize in physics to Hulse and Taylor

Page on The binary pulsar PSR B1913+16 from Cornell University's ASTRO 201 course.

A little more technical: a list of abstracts from NASA's ADS regarding PSR B1913+16, including ArXiv preprints:

© 2001-2002, 2004 by Wm. Robert Johnston.
Last modified 30 August 2004.
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