Pulsar timing leverages observations of ultra-stable cosmic clocks known as pulsars to probe fundamental physics, from tests of alternate theories of gravity to constraints of extreme nuclear physics to the detection and characterization of low-frequency gravitational waves. Pulsar timing is also used to study spatial and temporal variations within the turbulent interstellar medium, spiral-arm structure of the Milky Way, and pulsar emission mechanism physics. Utilizing the most sensitive radio telescopes in the world, we can estimate the arrival times of pulses traveling for thousands of years from pulsars to reach us to a precision below 100 nanoseconds.
Several RIT astrophysicists are members of the North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves (NANOGrav) have the primary goal of detecting gravitational waves from supermassive black hole binary systems at the centers of merging galaxies by observing an entire array of pulsars distributed throughout the Galaxy, creating a Galactic-scale gravitational-wave detector complementary to LIGO and LISA. In doing so, we are observing nearly 80 pulsars and their lines of sight, and NANOGrav members are involved in a wide range of synergistic science goals beyond the study of gravitational waves, including: measuring the masses of neutron stars, searching for plasma lenses embedded within the interstellar medium, understanding the underlying velocity distributions of this neutron star population and the implications for supernova kicks, and more.