The Keplerian formularism is analogous to spectroscopic binary stars where constraints on the mass of the orbiting companion can be placed by combining the projected semi-major axis and the orbital period to obtain the familiar mass function:

where
*G*
is the universal gravitational constant. Assuming a pulsar mass
of
, the mass of the orbiting companion
can be estimated as a function of the (unknown) angle
*i*
between the orbital plane and the plane of the sky. The minimum
companion mass
occurs when the orbit is assumed edge-on (). For a random distribution of orbital inclination angles, the
probability of observing a binary system at an angle
*less*
than some value
is
. This implies that the chances of observing a binary system
inclined at an angle < 26
is only 10%; evaluating the companion mass for this inclination
angle
constrains the mass range between
and
(in a probabilistic sense) at the 90% confidence level. The mass
distribution of the companions in the present sample discussed in
§
2.4
indicates that the companions are white dwarfs, other neutron
stars or main sequence stars.

An example of a purely Keplerian orbital solution is shown in
Fig.
12
by the fit to a set of pulse period measurements for the binary
pulsar J1012+5307. The peak-to-peak variations in period
correspond to a change in radial velocity during the 14.5 hour
binary orbit of about 46 km s
. The eccentricity of the orbit dictates the shape of the
orbital curve. In this case
and the Doppler shifts are indistinguishable from a sinusoid.
For the higher-mass binary systems with
*e*
> 0.3 the curve becomes increasingly like a saw-tooth in
appearance.

Although many of the presently known binary pulsar systems can be adequately described by a Keplerian orbit, there are a number of systems, including the original binary pulsar B1913+16, which exhibit a number of relativistic effects requiring an additional set of ``post-Keplerian'' parameters [36, 72, 51, 152]. Taylor & Weisberg [151] measured two such parameters from an analysis of timing data for B1913+16 between 1974 and 1981. The first of these parameters is advance of the longitude of periastron, analogous to the general relativistic perihelion advance of Mercury. For PSR B1913+16 this amounts to about 4.2 degrees per year [151], some 4.5 orders of magnitude larger than for Mercury. The second post-Keplerian parameter is related to the gravitational redshift and transverse Doppler shifts in the orbit. Together with the five Keplerian parameters, these two post-Keplerian parameters allow an unambiguous description of the masses of the binary components, together with the inclination angle of the orbit.

The latest published measurements for PSR B1913+16 [152] determine the mass of the pulsar and its (unseen) companion to be and respectively, demonstrating that the companion is most likely another neutron star (§ 2.4). Both these post-Keplerian parameters have now been measured for the two other double neutron star binary systems that will merge within a Hubble time: B1534+12 [166] and B2127+11C [53]. These measurements provide similar, but slightly less precise, determinations of neutron star masses. For a number of other systems, the advance of the longitude of periastron has been measured yielding the total system mass and thus allowing interesting constraints to be placed on the component masses [154, 120].

An important general relativistic prediction for eccentric double neutron star systems is the orbital decay due to the emission of gravitational radiation. Taylor & Weisberg were able to measure this for B1913+16 and found it to be in excellent agreement with the predicted value.

The orbital decay, which corresponds to a shrinkage of about 1.5 cm per orbit, is seen most dramatically as the gradually increasing shift in orbital phase for periastron passages with respect to a non-decaying orbit. This is reproduced from Taylor & Weisberg's classic paper [151] in Fig. 13 . Further observations of this system demonstrate that the agreement with General Relativity is at the level of about 1% [152]. Hulse and Taylor were awarded the Nobel prize in Physics in 1993 [1] in recognition of the discovery of this remarkable laboratory for testing General Relativity.

For those binary systems which are oriented nearly edge-on to the line-of-sight, a significant delay is expected for orbital phases around superior conjunction where the pulsar radiation is bent in the gravitational potential well of the companion star. This effect, analogous to the solar system Shapiro delay, has so far been measured for two neutron star-white dwarf binary systems: B1855+09 and J1713+0747 [134, 87, 41].

Binary and Millisecond Pulsars
D. R. Lorimer (dunc@mpifr-bonn.mpg.de)
http://www.livingreviews.org/lrr-1998-10
© Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. ISSN 1433-8351 Problems/Comments to livrev@aei-potsdam.mpg.de |