1 Preamble

Pulsars – rapidly rotating highly magnetised neutron stars – have many applications in physics and astronomy. Striking examples include the confirmation of the existence of gravitational radiation [359Jump To The Next Citation Point360Jump To The Next Citation Point371Jump To The Next Citation Point], the first extra-solar planetary system [403Jump To The Next Citation Point298Jump To The Next Citation Point] and the first detection of gas in a globular cluster [118]. The diverse zoo of radio pulsars currently known is summarized in Figure 1View Image.

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Figure 1: Venn diagram showing the numbers and locations of the various types of radio pulsars known as of September 2008. The large and small Magellanic clouds are denoted by LMC and SMC.

Pulsar research has proceeded at a rapid pace during the first three versions of this article [221Jump To The Next Citation Point222224Jump To The Next Citation Point]. Surveys with the Parkes radio telescope [280], at Green Bank [366Jump To The Next Citation Point], Arecibo [362] and the Giant Metre Wave Radio Telescope [365] have more than doubled the number of pulsars known a decade ago. With new instrumentation coming online, and new telescopes planned [111Jump To The Next Citation Point368Jump To The Next Citation Point374Jump To The Next Citation Point], these are exciting times for pulsar astronomy.

The aims of this review are to introduce the reader to the field and to focus on some of the many applications of pulsar research in relativistic astrophysics. We begin in Section 2 with an overview of the pulsar phenomenon, a review of the key observed population properties, the origin and evolution of pulsars and the main search strategies. In Section 3, we review present understanding in pulsar demography, discussing selection effects and their correction techniques. This leads to empirical estimates of the total number of normal and millisecond pulsars (see Section 3.3) and relativistic binaries (see Section 3.4) in the Galaxy and has implications for the detection of gravitational radiation by current and planned telescopes. Our review of pulsar timing in Section 4 covers the basic techniques (see Section 4.2), timing stability (see Section 4.3), binary pulsars (see Section 4.4), and using pulsars as sensitive detectors of long-period gravitational waves (see Section 4.7). We conclude with a brief outlook to the future in Section 5. Up-to-date tables of parameters of binary and millisecond pulsars are included in Appendix A.

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