Thursday, May 28, 2009

Using Pulsars For a Universal Position System

GPS works well on earth provided that the necessary satellites are maintained. Venturing out in to space however, they would not be able to help guide us. Some scientists are proposing we use four pulsars in place of the satellite network on earth for what would essentially be a Universal Position System.

http://www.technologyreview.com/blog/arxiv/23576

"Today, Bertolomé Coll at the Observatoire de Paris in France and a friend propose an interstellar GPS system that has the ability to determine the position of any point in the galaxy to within a metre.

Their idea is to tune in to the signals from four pulsars: 0751+1807 (3.5ms), 2322+2057 (4.8ms), 0711-6830 (5.5ms) and 1518+0205B (7.9ms), which each generate regular millisecond radio signals.

These form a rough tetrahedron centred on the Solar System.

Why four pulsars? Coll points out that on these scales relativity has to be taken into account when processing the signals and to do this, the protocol has to specify a position in space-time, which requires four signals.

Coll then defines the origin for this system of co-ordinates as 00:00 on 1 January 2001 at the focal point of the Interplanetary Scintillation Array, the radio telescope near Cambridge in the UK that first observed pulsars.

With the co-ordinate system established, any interplanetary spacecraft could then use the signals from these pulsars to determine its position in this co-ordinate system to within a few nanoseconds, which corresponds to about a metre.

Handy, and cheap too.
"

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