1932

Abstract

Isolated neutron stars (INSs) were the first sources identified in the field of high-energy gamma-ray astronomy. In the 1970s, only two sources had been identified, the Crab and Vela pulsars. However, although few in number, these objects were crucial in establishing the very concept of a gamma-ray source. Moreover, they opened up significant discovery space in both the theoretical and phenomenological fronts. The need to explain the copious gamma-ray emission of these pulsars led to breakthrough developments in understanding the structure and physics of neutron star (NS) magnetospheres. In parallel, the 20-year-long chase to understand the nature of Geminga unveiled the existence of a radio-quiet, gamma-ray-emitting INS, adding a new dimension to the INS family.

We are living through an extraordinary time of discovery. The current generation of gamma-ray detectors has vastly increased the population of known gamma-ray-emitting NSs. The 100 mark was crossed in 2011, and we are now over 150. The gamma-ray-emitting NS population exhibits roughly equal numbers of radio-loud and radio-quiet young INSs, plus an astonishing, and unexpected, group of isolated and binary millisecond pulsars (MSPs). The number of MSPs is growing so rapidly that they are on their way to becoming the most numerous members of the family of gamma-ray-emitting NSs. Even as these findings have set the stage for a revolution in our understanding of gamma-ray-emitting NSs, long-term monitoring of the gamma-ray sky has revealed evidence of flux variability in the Crab Nebula as well as in the pulsed emission from PSR J2021+4026, challenging a four-decades-old, constant-emission paradigm. Now we know that both pulsars and their nebulae can, indeed, display variable emission.

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2014-08-18
2024-04-18
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