Meet the Woman Who Found the Most Useful Stars in the Universe
When Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell discovered the first pulsar 51 years ago, she revealed a new tool for solving many mysteries of the cosmos.
Pulsars—whirling stellar corpses that send beams of radio waves across the cosmos—are today’s astrophysical Swiss army knives. With them, scientists can test some of the most fundamental theories in physics, detect gravitational waves, navigate the cosmic ocean, and maybe even communicate with aliens.
But if it weren’t for the work of Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who discovered pulsars in 1967 while still a graduate student at the University of Cambridge, these distant stellar lighthouses may not have become such powerful celestial tools.
Now, 51 years after she first noticed an odd bit of “scruff” in her observations, Bell Burnell has been awarded a $3-million Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics. The prize committee not only cites her “detection of