- Neutron star glitches have a substantial minimum size
- Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
- Volume | Issue number
- 440 | 3
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Science (FNWI)
- Anton Pannekoek Institute for Astronomy (API)
Glitches are sudden spin-up events that punctuate the steady spin-down of pulsars and are thought to be due to the presence of a superfluid component within neutron stars. The precise glitch mechanism and its trigger, however, remain unknown. The size of glitches is a key diagnostic for models of the underlying physics. While the largest glitches have long been taken into account by theoretical models, it has always been assumed that the minimum size lay below the detectability limit of the measurements. In this paper we define general glitch detectability limits and use them on 29 yr of daily observations of the Crab pulsar, carried out at Jodrell Bank Observatory. We find that all glitches lie well above the detectability limits and by using an automated method to search for small events we are able to uncover the full glitch size distribution, with no biases. Contrary to the prediction of most models, the distribution presents a rapid decrease of the number of glitches below ∼0.05 μHz. This substantial minimum size indicates that a glitch must involve the motion of at least several billion superfluid vortices and provides an extra observable which can greatly help the identification of the trigger mechanism. Our study also shows that glitches are clearly separated from all the other rotation irregularities. This supports the idea that the origin of glitches is different to that of timing noise, which comprises the unmodelled random fluctuations in the rotation rates of pulsars.
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