W. A. Coles

University of California, San Diego, San Diego, California, United States

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Publications (129)415.48 Total impact

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    ABSTRACT: We present high signal-to-noise ratio, multi-frequency polarization pulse profiles for 24 millisecond pulsars that are being observed as part of the Parkes Pulsar Timing Array (PPTA) project. The pulsars are observed in three bands, centred close to 730, 1400 and 3100 MHz, using a dual-band 10 cm/50 cm receiver and the central beam of the 20 cm multibeam receiver. Observations spanning approximately six years have been carefully calibrated and summed to produce high S/N profiles. This allows us to study the individual profile components and in particular how they evolve with frequency. We also identify previously undetected profile features. For many pulsars we show that pulsed emission extends across almost the entire pulse profile. The pulse component widths and component separations follow a complex evolution with frequency; in some cases these parameters increase and in other cases they decrease with increasing frequency. The evolution with frequency of the polarization properties of the profile is also non-trivial. We provide evidence that the pre- and post-cursors generally have higher fractional linear polarization than the main pulse. We have obtained the spectral index and rotation measure for each pulsar by fitting across all three observing bands. For the majority of pulsars, the spectra follow a single power-law and the position angles follow a $\lambda^2$ relation, as expected. However, clear deviations are seen for some pulsars. We also present phase-resolved measurements of the spectral index, fractional linear polarization and rotation measure. All these properties are shown to vary systematically over the pulse profile.
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    ABSTRACT: Anisotropic bursts of gravitational radiation produced by events such as super-massive black hole mergers leave permanent imprints on space. Such gravitational wave "memory" (GWM) signals are, in principle, detectable through pulsar timing as sudden changes in the apparent pulse frequency of a pulsar. If an array of pulsars is monitored as a GWM signal passes over the Earth, the pulsars would simultaneously appear to change pulse frequency by an amount that varies with their sky position in a quadrupolar fashion. Here we describe a search algorithm for such events and apply the algorithm to approximately six years of data from the Parkes Pulsar Timing Array. We find no GWM events and set an upper bound on the rate for events which could have been detected. We show, using simple models of black hole coalescence rates, that this non-detection is not unexpected.
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    ABSTRACT: We present results of an all-sky search in the Parkes Pulsar Timing Array (PPTA) Data Release 1 data set for continuous gravitational waves (GWs) in the frequency range from $5\times 10^{-9}$ to $2\times 10^{-7}$ Hz. Such signals could be produced by individual supermassive binary black hole systems in the early stage of coalescence. We phase up the pulsar timing array data set to form, for each position on the sky, two data streams that correspond to the two GW polarizations and then carry out an optimal search for GW signals on these data streams. Since no statistically significant GWs were detected, we place upper limits on the intrinsic GW strain amplitude $h_0$ for a range of GW frequencies. For example, at $10^{-8}$ Hz our analysis has excluded with $95\%$ confidence the presence of signals with $h_0\geqslant 1.7\times 10^{-14}$. Our new limits are about a factor of four more stringent than those of Yardley et al. (2010) based on an earlier PPTA data set and a factor of two better than those reported in the recent Arzoumanian et al. (2014) paper. We also present PPTA directional sensitivity curves and find that for the most sensitive region on the sky, the current data set is sensitive to GWs from circular supermassive binary black holes with chirp masses of $10^{9} M_{\odot}$ out to a luminosity distance of about 100 Mpc. Finally, we set an upper limit of $4 \times 10^{-3} {\rm{Mpc}}^{-3} {\rm{Gyr}}^{-1}$ at $95\%$ confidence on the coalescence rate of nearby ($z \lesssim 0.1$) supermassive binary black holes in circular orbits with chirp masses of $10^{10}M_{\odot}$.
    Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 08/2014; 444(4). DOI:10.1093/mnras/stu1717 · 5.23 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: High-sensitivity radio-frequency observations of millisecond pulsars usually show stochastic, broadband, pulse-shape variations intrinsic to the pulsar emission process. These variations induce jitter noise in pulsar timing observations; understanding the properties of this noise is of particular importance for the effort to detect gravitational waves with pulsar timing arrays. We assess the short-term profile and timing stability of 22 millisecond pulsars that are part of the Parkes Pulsar Timing Array sample by examining intra-observation arrival time variability and single-pulse phenomenology. In 7 of the 22 pulsars, in the band centred at approximately 1400MHz, we find that the brightest observations are limited by intrinsic jitter. We find consistent results, either detections or upper limits, for jitter noise in other frequency bands. PSR J1909-3744 shows the lowest levels of jitter noise, which we estimate to contribute $\sim$10 ns root mean square error to the arrival times for hour-duration observations. Larger levels of jitter noise are found in pulsars with wider pulses and distributions of pulse intensities. The jitter noise in PSR J0437-4715 decorrelates over a bandwidth of $\sim$2 GHz. We show that the uncertainties associated with timing pulsar models can be improved by including physically motivated jitter uncertainties. Pulse-shape variations will limit the timing precision at future, more sensitive, telescopes; it is imperative to account for this noise when designing instrumentation and timing campaigns for these facilities.
    Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 06/2014; 443(2). DOI:10.1093/mnras/stu1213 · 5.23 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: We report here a series of observations of the interstellar scintillation (ISS) of the double pulsar J0737$-$3039 over the course of 18 months. As in earlier work (Coles et al., 2005) the basic phenomenon is the variation in the ISS caused by the changing transverse velocities of each pulsar, the ionized interstellar medium (IISM), and the Earth. The transverse velocity of the binary system can be determined both by VLBI and timing observations. The orbital velocity and inclination is almost completely determined from timing observations, but the direction of the orbital angular momentum is not known. Since the Earth's velocity is known, and can be compared with the orbital velocity by its effect on the timescale of the ISS, we can determine the orientation $\Omega$ of the pulsar orbit with respect to equatorial coordinates ($\Omega = 65\pm2$ deg). We also resolve the ambiguity ($i= 88.7$ or $91.3$ deg) in the inclination of the orbit deduced from the measured Shapiro delay by our estimate $i=88.1\pm0.5$ deg. This relies on analysis of the ISS over both frequency and time and provides a model for the location, anisotropy, turbulence level and transverse phase gradient of the IISM. We find that the IISM can be well-modeled during each observation, typically of a few orbital periods, but its turbulence level and mean velocity vary significantly over the 18 months.
    The Astrophysical Journal 04/2014; 787(2). DOI:10.1088/0004-637X/787/2/161 · 6.28 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The formation and growth processes of supermassive black holes (SMBHs) are not well constrained. SMBH population models, however, provide specific predictions for the properties of the gravitational-wave background (GWB) from binary SMBHs in merging galaxies throughout the universe. Using observations from the Parkes Pulsar Timing Array, we constrain the fractional GWB energy density (Ω(GW)) with 95% confidence to be Ω(GW)(H0/73 kilometers per second per megaparsec)(2) < 1.3 × 10(-9) (where H0 is the Hubble constant) at a frequency of 2.8 nanohertz, which is approximately a factor of 6 more stringent than previous limits. We compare our limit to models of the SMBH population and find inconsistencies at confidence levels between 46 and 91%. For example, the standard galaxy formation model implemented in the Millennium Simulation Project is inconsistent with our limit with 50% probability.
    Science 10/2013; 342(6156):334-7. DOI:10.1126/science.1238012 · 31.48 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: We demonstrate how observations of pulsars can be used to help navigate a spacecraft travelling in the solar system. We make use of archival observations of millisecond pulsars from the Parkes radio telescope in order to demonstrate the effectiveness of the method and highlight issues, such as pulsar spin irregularities, which need to be accounted for. We show that observations of four millisecond pulsars every seven days using a realistic X-ray telescope on the spacecraft throughout a journey from Earth to Mars can lead to position determinations better than approx. 20km and velocity measurements with a precision of approx. 0.1m/s.
    Advances in Space Research 07/2013; 52(9). DOI:10.1016/j.asr.2013.07.025 · 1.24 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The multi-antenna scintillation method of measuring the solar-wind velocity has been very effective, particularly near the Sun and at high heliographic latitudes where direct measurements are rare or non-existent. However, scintillation observations inherently involve an LOS integration. Several methods have been used to deal with this problem, but they all require the basic assumption that contributions from different parts of the LOS add linearly. This assumption is valid for weak scintillations where the Born approximation holds, but it is not correct for strong scintillations. In this article we compare simultaneous observations of the same radio source, and therefore the same solar wind, at radio wavelengths of 32 cm and 92 cm. The 32-cm observations at the European Incoherent Scatter Radar (EISCAT) were made in weak-scattering and those at 92 cm at the Solar-Terrestrial Environment Laboratory (STEL) were made in strong-scattering mode. The results showed no significant bias in velocity caused by strong scattering, confirming that the LOS inversion techniques can be extended into the strong-scattering regime.
    Solar Physics 04/2013; 283(2). DOI:10.1007/s11207-012-0207-2 · 3.81 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: An Ensemble Pulsar Time Scale (EPT) is derived based on the Pulsar Timing Array. It is interesting to compare the EPT with the TT terrestrial time scale, and get many new realization on the pulsar time scale and the algorithm. Some future interesting applications of the EPT are described and discussed.
    Proceedings of the International Astronomical Union 03/2013; 8(S291):365-365. DOI:10.1017/S1743921312024131
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    ABSTRACT: Signals from radio pulsars show a wavelength-dependent delay due to dispersion in the interstellar plasma. At a typical observing wavelength, this delay can vary by tens of microseconds on five-year time scales, far in excess of signals of interest to pulsar timing arrays, such as that induced by a gravitational-wave background. Measurement of these delay variations is not only crucial for the detection of such signals, but also provides an unparallelled measurement of the turbulent interstellar plasma at au scales. In this paper we demonstrate that without consideration of wavelength- independent red-noise, 'simple' algorithms to correct for interstellar dispersion can attenuate signals of interest to pulsar timing arrays. We present a robust method for this correction, which we validate through simulations, and apply it to observations from the Parkes Pulsar Timing Array. Correction for dispersion variations comes at a cost of increased band-limited white noise. We discuss scheduling to minimise this additional noise, and factors, such as scintillation, that can exacerbate the problem. Comparison with scintillation measurements confirms previous results that the spectral exponent of electron density variations in the interstellar medium often appears steeper than expected. We also find a discrete change in dispersion measure of PSR J1603-7202 of ~2x10^{-3} cm^{-3}pc for about 250 days. We speculate that this has a similar origin to the 'extreme scattering events' seen in other sources. In addition, we find that four pulsars show a wavelength-dependent annual variation, indicating a persistent gradient of electron density on an au spatial scale, which has not been reported previously.
    Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 11/2012; 429(3). DOI:10.1093/mnras/sts486 · 5.23 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: A "pulsar timing array" (PTA), in which observations of a large sample of pulsars spread across the celestial sphere are combined, allows investigation of "global" phenomena such as a background of gravitational waves or instabilities in atomic timescales that produce correlated timing residuals in the pulsars of the array. The Parkes Pulsar Timing Array (PPTA) is an implementation of the PTA concept based on observations with the Parkes 64-m radio telescope. A sample of 20 millisecond pulsars is being observed at three radio-frequency bands, 50cm (~700 MHz), 20cm (~1400 MHz) and 10cm (~3100 MHz), with observations at intervals of 2 - 3 weeks. Regular observations commenced in early 2005. This paper describes the systems used for the PPTA observations and data processing, including calibration and timing analysis. The strategy behind the choice of pulsars, observing parameters and analysis methods is discussed. Results are presented for PPTA data in the three bands taken between 2005 March and 2011 March. For ten of the 20 pulsars, rms timing residuals are less than 1 microsec for the best band after fitting for pulse frequency and its first time derivative. Significant "red" timing noise is detected in about half of the sample. We discuss the implications of these results on future projects including the International Pulsar Timing Array (IPTA) and a PTA based on the Square Kilometre Array. We also present an "extended PPTA" data set that combines PPTA data with earlier Parkes timing data for these pulsars.
    Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia 10/2012; 30. DOI:10.1017/S1743921310008987 · 2.27 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Using observations of pulsars from the Parkes Pulsar Timing Array (PPTA) project we develop the first pulsar-based timescale that has a precision comparable to the uncertainties in international atomic timescales. Our ensemble of pulsars provides an Ensemble Pulsar Scale (EPS) analogous to the free atomic timescale Echelle Atomique Libre (EAL). The EPS can be used to detect fluctuations in atomic timescales and therefore can lead to a new realisation of Terrestrial Time, TT(PPTA11). We successfully follow features known to affect the frequency of the International Atomic Timescale (TAI) and we find marginally significant differences between TT(PPTA11) and TT(BIPM11). We discuss the various phenomena that lead to a correlated signal in the pulsar timing residuals and therefore limit the stability of the pulsar timescale.
    Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 08/2012; 427(4). DOI:10.1111/j.1365-2966.2012.21946.x · 5.23 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: For pulsar projects it is often necessary to predict the pulse phase in advance, for example, when preparing for new observations. Interpolation of the pulse phase between existing measurements is also often required, for example, when folding X-ray or gamma-ray observations according to the radio pulse phase. Until now these procedures have been done using various ad hoc methods. The purpose of this paper is to show how to interpolate or predict the pulse phase optimally using statistical models of the various noise processes and the phase measurement uncertainty.
    Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 04/2012; 424(1). DOI:10.1111/j.1365-2966.2012.21189.x · 5.23 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The magnetic field of the solar wind near the Sun is very difficult to measure directly. Measurements of Faraday rotation of linearly polarized radio sources occulted by the solar wind provide a unique opportunity to estimate this magnetic field, and the technique has been widely used in the past. However Faraday rotation is a path integral of the product of electron density and the projection of the magnetic field on the path. The electron density near the Sun can be measured by several methods, but it is quite variable. Here we show that it is possible to measure the path integrated electron density and the Faraday rotation simultaneously at 6-10 $R_\odot$ using millisecond pulsars as the linearly polarized radio source. By analyzing the Faraday rotation measurements with and without the simultaneous electron density observations we show that these observations significantly improve the accuracy of the magnetic field estimates.
    Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 02/2012; 422(2). DOI:10.1111/j.1365-2966.2012.20688.x · 5.23 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: We report on variations in the mean position angle of the 20 millisecond pulsars being observed as part of the Parkes Pulsar Timing Array (PPTA) project. It is found that the observed variations are dominated by changes in the Faraday rotation occurring in the Earth’s ionosphere. Two ionospheric models are used to correct for the ionospheric contribution and it is found that one based on the International Reference Ionosphere gave the best results. Little or no significant long-term variation in interstellar RM was found with limits typically about 0.1rad m−2 yr−1 in absolute value. In a few cases, apparently significant RM variations over timescales of a few 100 days or more were seen. These are unlikely to be due to localised magnetised regions crossing the line of sight since the implied magnetic fields are too high. Most probably they are statistical fluctuations due to random spatial and temporal variations in the interstellar electron density and magnetic field along the line of sight. KeywordsPulsars: general–ISM: general–Radio continuum: stars
    Astrophysics and Space Science 10/2011; 335(2):485-498. DOI:10.1007/s10509-011-0756-0 · 2.40 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: We have applied a cross correlation analysis to timing observations of 20 pulsars to study the isotropic, stochastic gravitational-wave background signal. No gravitational-wave signal was detected. We showed that, because of the variable data spans and noise levels across the 20 time series, only a few pulsars contribute to estimating the gravitational-wave signal. This prohibits the calculation of a 95% confidence upper bound on the amplitude of the gravitational-wave background.
    08/2011; DOI:10.1063/1.3615082
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    ABSTRACT: Pulsar timing observations are usually analysed with least-square-fitting procedures under the assumption that the timing residuals are uncorrelated (statistically "white"). Pulsar observers are well aware that this assumption often breaks down and causes severe errors in estimating the parameters of the timing model and their uncertainties. Ad hoc methods for minimizing these errors have been developed, but we show that they are far from optimal. Compensation for temporal correlation can be done optimally if the covariance matrix of the residuals is known using a linear transformation that whitens both the residuals and the timing model. We adopt a transformation based on the Cholesky decomposition of the covariance matrix, but the transformation is not unique. We show how to estimate the covariance matrix with sufficient accuracy to optimize the pulsar timing analysis. We also show how to apply this procedure to estimate the spectrum of any time series with a steep red power-law spectrum, including those with irregular sampling and variable error bars, which are otherwise very difficult to analyse.
    Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 07/2011; 418. DOI:10.1111/j.1365-2966.2011.19505.x · 5.23 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Polarization profiles are presented for 20 millisecond pulsars that are being observed as part of the Parkes Pulsar Timing Array project. The observations used the Parkes multibeam receiver with a central frequency of 1369 MHz and the Parkes digital filter bank pulsar signal-processing system PDFB2. Because of the large total observing time, the summed polarization profiles have very high signal-to-noise ratios and show many previously undetected profile features. 13 of the 20 pulsars show emission over more than half of the pulse period. Polarization variations across the profiles are complex, and the observed position angle variations are generally not in accord with the rotating vector model for pulsar polarization. Nevertheless, the polarization properties are broadly similar to those of normal (non-millisecond) pulsars, suggesting that the basic radio emission mechanism is the same in both classes of pulsar. The results support the idea that radio emission from millisecond pulsars originates high in the pulsar magnetosphere, probably close to the emission regions for high-energy X-ray and gamma-ray emission. Rotation measures were obtained for all 20 pulsars, eight of which had no previously published measurements.
    Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 06/2011; 414(3):2087 - 2100. DOI:10.1111/j.1365-2966.2011.18522.x · 5.23 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: We search for the signature of an isotropic stochastic gravitational-wave background in pulsar timing observations using a frequency-domain correlation technique. These observations, which span roughly 12 yr, were obtained with the 64-m Parkes radio telescope augmented by public domain observations from the Arecibo Observatory. A wide range of signal processing issues unique to pulsar timing and not previously presented in the literature are discussed. These include the effects of quadratic removal, irregular sampling, and variable errors which exacerbate the spectral leakage inherent in estimating the steep red spectrum of the gravitational-wave background. These observations are found to be consistent with the null hypothesis, that no gravitational-wave background is present, with 76 percent confidence. We show that the detection statistic is dominated by the contributions of only a few pulsars because of the inhomogeneity of this data set. The issues of detecting the signature of a gravitational-wave background with future observations are discussed.
    Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 02/2011; 414. DOI:10.1111/j.1365-2966.2011.18517.x · 5.23 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: We show how pulsar observations may be used to construct a time standard that is independent of terrestrial time standards. The pulsar time scale provides a method to determine the stability of terrestrial time standards over years to decades. Here, we summarise the method, provide initial results and discuss the possibilities and limitations of our pulsar time scale. Comment: 6 page conference proceedings from Journees conference in Paris (20-22 Sept 2010)

Publication Stats

2k Citations
415.48 Total Impact Points

Institutions

  • 1978–2014
    • University of California, San Diego
      • Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
      San Diego, California, United States
  • 2009
    • Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy
      Bonn, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany
  • 2007
    • Southwest University in Chongqing
      Pehpei, Chongqing Shi, China
  • 1992
    • CSU Mentor
      Long Beach, California, United States
  • 1991
    • Universitetet i Tromsø
      Tromsø, Troms, Norway
  • 1989
    • National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center
      Arecibo, Arecibo, Puerto Rico
  • 1980
    • Tata Institute of Fundamental Research
      Mumbai, Maharashtra, India