KEY POINTS

  • Astronomers identified the location of the Solar System's center
  • Astronomers used pulsars and gravitational waves to calculate Earth's position
  • The center of the Solar System is located just outside the Sun's surface

A group of astronomers was able to identify the center of the Solar System by monitoring the emissions of pulsars. Contrary to popular belief, the center of the system is not exactly the Sun.

A pulsar is a highly magnetized dead star that rotates rapidly. As it spins, it shoots out beams of electromagnetic radiation. Sometimes, the emissions of pulsars shoot past Earth, allowing scientists to study them.

From Earth, the beams of radiation emitted by the pulsars are detected as pulse signals that appear on a regular basis.

Through the North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves (NANOGrav), a team of astronomers was able to observe the regular pulses and use them to detect gravitational waves. According to the astronomers, gravitational waves can cause disruptions within the frequency of the pulse signals.

“Using the pulsars we observe across the Milky Way galaxy, we are trying to be like a spider sitting in stillness in the middle of her web,” astronomer and physicist Stephen Taylor explained in a press release.

“How well we understand the Solar System barycenter is critical as we attempt to sense even the smallest tingle to the web,” he continued.

Using the pulse signals and the disturbances caused by gravitational waves, the astronomers were able to calculate Earth’s distance or positioning from various objects and locations in the Solar System. One of these is the center of Earth’s neighborhood.

It was commonly believed that the Sun is the exact center of the Solar System since all of the planets revolve around it. However, due to the gravitational forces exerted on the Sun by other planets, the massive star tends to wobble out of place from time to time.

By studying the pulsars and gravitational waves, the astronomers were able to narrow down the location of the center of the Solar System within 100 meters or 328 feet. According to the astronomers, the center of Earth’s neighborhood is located just outside the Sun’s surface.

The astronomers presented the results of their observations using NANOGrav in a new study published in The Astrophysical Journal.

solar-system-diagram An illustrated model shows our solar system and its planets. Photo: NASA/JPL