Here
is the position of the Earth with respect to the barycentre,
is a unit vector in the direction towards the pulsar at a
distance
*d*, and
*c*
is the speed of light. The first term on the right hand side of
this expression is the light travel time from the Earth to the
solar system barycentre. For all but the nearest pulsars, the
incoming pulses can be approximated by plane wavefronts. The
second term, which represents the delay due to spherical
wavefronts and which yields the trigonometric parallax and hence
*d*, is presently only measurable for four nearby millisecond
pulsars [117,
46,
208]. The term
represents the Einstein and Shapiro corrections due to general
relativistic effects within the solar system [16]. Since measurements are often carried out at different
observing frequencies with different dispersive delays, the TOAs
are generally referred to the equivalent time that would be
observed at infinite frequency. This transformation corresponds
to the term
and may be calculated from Equation (1).

Following the accumulation of about ten to twenty barycentric TOAs from observations spaced over at least several months, a surprisingly simple model can be applied to the TOAs and optimised so that it is sufficient to account for the arrival time of any pulse emitted during the time span of the observations and predict the arrival times of subsequent pulses. The model is based on a Taylor expansion of the angular rotational frequency about a model value at some reference epoch . The model pulse phase as a function of barycentric time is thus given by:

where is the pulse phase at . Based on this simple model, and using initial estimates of the position, dispersion measure and pulse period, a ``timing residual'' is calculated for each TOA as the difference between the observed and predicted pulse phases.

A set of timing residuals for the nearby pulsar B1133+16
spanning almost 10 years is shown for illustrative purposes in
Fig.
19
. Ideally, the residuals should have a zero mean and be free from
any systematic trends (Fig.
19
a). Inevitably, however, due to our
*a-priori*
ignorance of the rotational parameters, the model needs to be
refined in a bootstrap fashion. Early sets of residuals will
exhibit a number of trends indicating a systematic error in one
or more of the model parameters, or a parameter not initially
incorporated into the model.

From Equation (9), an error in the assumed results in a linear slope with time. A parabolic trend results from an error in (Fig. 19 b). Additional effects will arise if the assumed position of the pulsar (the unit vector in equation (8)) used in the barycentric time calculation is incorrect. A position error of just one arcsecond results in an annual sinusoid (Fig. 19 c) with a peak-to-peak amplitude of about 5 ms for a pulsar on the ecliptic; this is easily measurable for typical TOA uncertainties of order one milliperiod or better. A proper motion produces an annual sinusoid of linearly increasing magnitude (Fig. 19 d).

After a number of iterations, and with the benefit of a modicum of experience, it is possible to identify and account for each of these various effects to produce a ``timing solution'' which is phase coherent over the whole data span. The resulting model parameters provide spin and astrometric information about the neutron star to a precision which improves as the length of the data span increases. Timing observations of the original millisecond pulsar B1937+21, spanning almost 9 years (exactly 165,711,423,279 rotations!), measure a period of ms [117, 114] defined at midnight UT on December 5 1988! Astrometric measurements based on these data are no less impressive, with position errors of arcsec being presently possible.

Binary and Millisecond Pulsars at the New Millennium
Duncan R. Lorimer
http://www.livingreviews.org/lrr-2001-5
© Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. ISSN 1433-8351 Problems/Comments to livrev@aei-potsdam.mpg.de |