P.

Demorest Amaldi 8, June 2009 – 1
Key Challenges and Advances for Pulsar
Timing
Paul Demorest, NRAO
June 25, 2009
Pulsar Timing Challenges
P. Demorest Amaldi 8, June 2009 – 2
Context: Rough GW detection requirement is 20–40 MSPs timing
at 100 ns precision. Current PTA projects have ∼3 pulsars at
100 ns, 10–20 at 1 µs. What challenges do we face in achieving
this order of magnitude improvement in timing results?
Talk outline:
Pulsar Timing Overview
Timing Signal-to-Noise Ratio
Systematic Effects
Future Prospects
Pulsars
P. Demorest Amaldi 8, June 2009 – 3
Radio Telescopes
P. Demorest Amaldi 8, June 2009 – 4
Observations
P. Demorest Amaldi 8, June 2009 – 5
Basic observing process:
q Incoming radio wave is amplified then digitized
q . . . split into many frequency channels
q . . . coherently dispersion-corrected
q . . . “folded” modulo pulsar spin period
Resulting in pulse profiles/lightcurves (flux vs spin phase):
-0.05
0
0.05
0.1
0.15
0.2
0.25
0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.7 0.8 0.9 1
Raw Timing Data
P. Demorest Amaldi 8, June 2009 – 6
Each observation is a “cube” containing radio flux as a fn of time
(min), radio freq (MHz), and spin phase (10
−3
turns).
Measuring Times of Arrival
P. Demorest Amaldi 8, June 2009 – 7
Combine data profiles:
-0.05
0
0.05
0.1
0.15
0.2
0.25
0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.7 0.8 0.9 1
with high-SNR templates:
-5
0
5
10
15
20
25
30
0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.7 0.8 0.9 1
to get the shift between the two, or time of arrival (TOA).
Timing Model Fits
P. Demorest Amaldi 8, June 2009 – 8
TOAs are then fit to a timing model including spin, astrometric,
binary, etc parameters:
-100
-50
0
50
100
150
200
2004.5 2005 2005.5 2006 2006.5 2007 2007.5 2008 2008.5
R
e
s
i
d
u
a
l

(
u
s
)
Year
-150
-100
-50
0
50
100
150
200
2004.5 2005 2005.5 2006 2006.5 2007 2007.5 2008 2008.5
R
e
s
i
d
u
a
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(
u
s
)
Year
-10
-8
-6
-4
-2
0
2
4
6
2004.5 2005 2005.5 2006 2006.5 2007 2007.5 2008 2008.5
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Year
TOA uncertainty
P. Demorest Amaldi 8, June 2009 – 9
Basic time-of-arrival uncertainty calculation depends on pulse
profile SNR:
σ
t

W
SNR
= WS
psr
1


A
eff
kT
sys
q Intrinsic to each pulsar:
3 W – Pulse sharpness (∼width)
3 S
psr
– Pulsar radio flux
q Instrumental parameters:
3 B – Radio bandwidth
3 τ – Total observation time
3 A
eff
– Effective telescope area
3 T
sys
– Receiver system temperature
Improving timing uncertainties
P. Demorest Amaldi 8, June 2009 – 10
Timing of most MSPs is SNR-limited. How can we improve things?
q Intrinsic pulsar factors – Find more/better pulsars! One of the
current best timers (J1909−3744) was only discovered in 2003.
q Instrumental improvements
3 τ – GW timing programs currently occupy ∼5% of large
radio telescopes’ time.
3 B – Current-gen backends ∼50–100 MHz, next-gen
∼1 GHz, next-next-gen ∼1-3 GHz.
3 A
eff
– Build new/larger telescopes
Systematic Timing Effects
P. Demorest Amaldi 8, June 2009 – 11
Any process that shifts or distorts the pulse shape:
q Local
3 Polarimetry and calibration
3 Manmade radio-frequency interference
3 Instrumental artifacts (quantization, etc)
q Interstellar medium
3 Dispersion measure variation with time
3 Multipath propagation effects (scattering/scintillation)
q Intrinsic to pulsar
3 Intrinsic pulse shape variations
3 Single-pulse “jitter”
3 Timing noise
Interstellar medium
P. Demorest Amaldi 8, June 2009 – 12
Ionized interstellar gas affects radio wave via plasma dispersion
relation.
These effects are strong functions of RF, whereas GW effect is
achromatic.
Dispersion variation
P. Demorest Amaldi 8, June 2009 – 13
Total electron column density varies due to motions of Earth, PSR,
and ISM:
(PSR B1937+21; Ramachandran et al. 2006)
Can be measured/removed with timing measurements at widely
separated RFs.
Scattering/Scintillation
P. Demorest Amaldi 8, June 2009 – 14
Electron density variation transverse to the line-of-sight causes
constructive/destructive interference:
(Walker et al. 2008)
Typical scales ν ∼ kHz–MHz,
T ∼ sec–hours. Determined
by LOS/ISM velocity and ISM
length scales.
Effectively a (time-varying) “filter” on the signal. This affects profile
shapes!
ISM corrections
P. Demorest Amaldi 8, June 2009 – 15
How to deal with this?
q ISM effects decrease at higher RF:
3 dispersion ∝ ν
−2
3 scattering ∝ ν
−4
3 BUT S
psr
∝ ν
−1.8
q Current standard approach: optimize set of observing freqs. to
balance these effects.
q More advanced approaches currently under development will
measure scintillation patterns and correct TOAs.
3 New wideband backends will help this effort.
Historical improvement
P. Demorest Amaldi 8, June 2009 – 16
Pulsar timing “Moore’s Law”:
0.01
0.1
1
10
100
1000
1975 1980 1985 1990 1995 2000 2005 2010
R
M
S

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s
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Current and Future Work
P. Demorest Amaldi 8, June 2009 – 17
q Ongoing pulsar searches at Parkes, Arecibo (PALFA), GBT, . . .
q Backend instrumentation: Next-gen backends currently being
tested include GUPPI (NRAO), DFB3 (ATNF), APSR
(Swinburne). These are approaching receiver-limited BW.
q Current data analysis efforts focus on polarization/calibration
and ISM issues.
q New telescopes: EVLA, ATA, FAST, MeerKAT, ASKAP. . . (and
eventually SKA)

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