Pulsating Stars

Pulsating variable stars are intrinsic variables as their variation in brightness is due to a physical change within the star. In the case of pulsating variables this is due to the periodic expansion and contraction of the surface layers of the stars. This means the star actually increases and decreases in size periodically. The different types of pulsating variable are distinguished by their periods of pulsation and the shapes of their light curves. These in turn are a function of the mass and evolutionary stage of a given star.

The study of pulsating variables is of great importance to astronomers. Analysis of light curves provides vital information about the interior processes in stars. Perhaps their most valuable property of many types of pulsating variables is a direct relationship between the period of pulsation and their luminosity. This in turn allows us to determine the distance to such stars.
Pulsating Star Light Output
To see a Variable Star Photometry Analyzer Simulator, click here.


A pulsar is a neutron star that emits beams of radiation that sweep through Earth's line of sight. Like a black hole, it is an endpoint to stellar evolution. The "pulses" of high-energy radiation we see from a pulsar are due to a misalignment of the neutron star's rotation axis and its magnetic axis. Pulsars seem to pulse from our perspective because the rotation of the neutron star causes the beam of radiation generated within the magnetic field to sweep in and out of our line of sight with a regular period, somewhat like the beam of light from a lighthouse. The stream of light is, in reality, continuous, but to a distant observer, it seems to wink on and off at regular intervals.
Student Project Simulated Radio Telescope exploration of pulsars.