“At the beginning, an application of science to society is not sought”

Inés Pastor Mazaruela, Segovian astrophysicist, in the newspaper archive of El Adelantado. / KAMARERO

Ines Pastor it is one of the great promises of science in the entire world. Natural of Segovia, Pastor is months away from finishing his PhD in Amsterdam, where she has made the discovery that catapulted her this August to one of the highest peaks to which any scientist can aspire: to publish an article of her own in the specialized journal ‘Nature’. Shepherd He has been away from his land for many years. After finishing the ‘Bachibap’ in his city, he went to Toulouse, where he graduated from Physical and did a master’s degree in Astrophysics. At just 25 years old and after her discovery while observing fast radio waves, she has become one of the youngest women to achieve this milestone.

– Has there been any change in your life after publishing in ‘Nature’?

– Well, I wouldn’t say a change in itself. Before we were doing the observations while looking for other fast radio bursts that had never been seen before. Now, we have detected several of them, so instead of looking at the same source and seeing if something new happens, I am also investigating some of the sources that we have discovered.

– The research seems to be paying off, but what exactly are fast radio bursts?

– They are an astrophysical phenomenon that has been discovered relatively recently. They were first discovered in 2007 and are radio broadcasts that only last a few milliseconds, that is, less than it takes to blink.

– And where do they come from?

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– We know that they come from other galaxies, which take hundreds of millions or even billions of years to get from where they were produced to earth.

– Therefore, the discovery is based on observation. What do you look for in them?

– Although these bursts are so far away, we are able to observe them, which means that they have to be very bright for their signal to reach us. Since they were discovered there have been many observations and some of these were seen to be repeated. One of them did it with a periodic activity cycle, that is, for a few days it emitted several bursts, but then nothing was measured. However, then it would repeat itself.

– When did this happen?

– It took place in a period of 16 days. When it was discovered, we decided to observe this fast radio burst using two radio telescopes in the Netherlands. One of them observes at higher frequencies and the other at lower frequencies. And we not only detect it at high frequencies, but also at low frequencies.

– How is this possible?

– This was the first time it had been seen and, in addition, we saw that the bursts reached high frequencies earlier and for less time. Then, after about two days, they were seen at low frequencies for a longer time. This was a behavior that some of the models that had tried to explain the periodicity were not aware of.

– Why is it produced?

– In the article for Nature, we explained that the source that emits fast radio bursts is a magnetar, that is, a neutron star with a very strong magnetic field that is in a binary system with a massive star or another one of neutrons , which emits winds. These prevent the emission of the fast radio bursts from passing through it, so as they rotate, there is a moment in the orbit when the magnetar emitting the fast radio bursts is directed towards the Earth. There the gusts that we see escape.

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– This discovery is of great relevance in astrophysics. However, how can it affect a person who does not have great knowledge about it?

– Many times the research is done with a specific objective of applying it to society. Sometimes this is seen years later, even decades. However, fast radio bursts, as it is a phenomenon that emits so much energy in such a short time, could be used to see how that energy is produced. In fact, it would be useful to reproduce it on earth to find an alternative way to produce energy. Although we also do not know if this astrophysical phenomenon has a place, since perhaps physical conditions are required that we are not able to imitate.

– So what can you expect?

– I think this happens in all scientific branches. Many times something is investigated and sometimes you do not find any application or, on the contrary, they are very unexpected applications, as can also happen in the field of medicine with vaccines and MMR (the combined vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella), which has been researched for years and was not initially thought to be helpful.

– This profession will involve a lot of pressure, how do you manage to cope with it?

– It is difficult and I have to admit that there is also a lot of competition between different research teams, especially if it is a topic that is in fashion. But in the end there are quite a few telescopes around the world, each with different observing properties. For example, there may be teams working with a specific telescope and observing the same source, but they will not discover exactly the same, because it is in another part of the world. You cannot observe the same thing at the same time. Perhaps in some cases what we observe is not visible, and vice versa.

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– Is there a determining question?

– The different characteristics that they can have are the frequency and the temporal resolution. All of that affects what we are going to see in the end.

– And what other possibilities are there to carry out the observation?

– For example, two teams can request observation time with the same telescope to investigate Well, even if we all try to observe the same thing, we are always going to see different things. It is complementary information and does not have to overlap, but we can help each other.

Myrtle Frost

"Reader. Evil problem solver. Typical analyst. Unapologetic internet ninja."

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