Stanford physicist wins 2013 Rossi Prize

January 29th, 2013

Roger Romani

Stanford physics Professor ROGER W. ROMANI will share the 2013 Rossi Prize with ALICE HARDING of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. The prize is being awarded to them by the American Astronomical Society for establishing a theoretical framework for understanding gamma-ray pulsars.

Gamma-ray pulsars are unusual cosmic objects: They are the remnants of massive stars that have exploded as supernovae and are now rapidly spinning neutron stars that emit gamma-ray photons and sometimes (but not always) radio photons. By elucidating the theoretical behavior of these irregular objects, Harding and Romani made possible many of the observations made with the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.

“While pulsars were discovered nearly 50 years ago via their radio emissions, it turns out that the radio pulses are just an energetically insignificant echo of the particle accelerators blasting away in these exotic stars’ magnetospheres,” said Romani. “Fermi, by detecting gamma rays from over 100 of these neutron stars, has revealed to us the heart of the pulsar machine.”

“I am thrilled that Roger W. Romani’s many contributions to our understanding of pulsars have been acknowledged in this way,” said ROGER BLANDFORD, a physics professor at Stanford and the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and the 2013 winner of Britain’s Royal Astronomical Society’s highest honor, the Gold Medal.

“They have provided the essential connection between the basic theory of these fascinating objects and what we actually observe. This, in turn, has enabled the great discoveries made using Fermi,” Blandford added.

The prize is awarded annually by the American Astronomical Society’s High-Energy Astrophysics Division to recognize significant contributions in high-energy astrophysics. The award is named in honor of Bruno Rossi, an authority on cosmic ray physics and a pioneer in the field of X-ray astronomy.