Since their discovery in 1967 , radio pulsars have provided insights into physics on length scales covering the range from 1 m (giant pulses from the Crab pulsar ) to 10 km (neutron star) to kpc (Galactic) to hundreds of Mpc (cosmological). Pulsars present an extreme stellar environment, with matter at nuclear densities, magnetic fields of 108 G to nearly 1014 G, and spin periods ranging from 1.5 ms to 8.5 s. The regular pulses received from a pulsar each correspond to a single rotation of the neutron star. It is by measuring the deviations from perfect observed regularity that information can be derived about the neutron star itself, the interstellar medium between it and the Earth, and effects due to gravitational interaction with binary companion stars.
In particular, pulsars have proved to be remarkably successful laboratories for tests of the predictions of general relativity (GR). The tests of GR that are possible through pulsar timing fall into two broad categories: setting limits on the magnitudes of parameters that describe violation of equivalence principles, often using an ensemble of pulsars, and verifying that the measured post-Keplerian timing parameters of a given binary system match the predictions of strong-field GR better than those of other theories. Long-term millisecond pulsar timing can also be used to set limits on the stochastic gravitational-wave background (see, e.g., [74, 87, 67]), as can limits on orbital variability in binary pulsars for even lower wave frequencies (see, e.g., [21, 79]). However, these are not tests of the same type of precise prediction of GR and will not be discussed here. This review will present a brief overview of the properties of pulsars and the mechanics of deriving timing models, and will then proceed to describe the various types of tests of GR made possible by both single and binary pulsars.
© Max Planck Society and the author(s)