Measuring the mass of solar system planets using pulsar timing

D. J. Champion, G. B. Hobbs, R. N. Manchester, R. T. Edwards, D. C. Backer, M. Bailes, N. D. R. Bhat, S. Burke-Spolaor, W. Coles, P. B. Demorest, R. D. Ferdman, W. M. Folkner, A. W. Hotan, M. Kramer, Andrea N. Lommen, D. J. Nice, M. B. Purver, J. M. Sarkissian, I. H. Stairs, W. van StratenJ. P. W. Verbiest, D. R. B. Yardley

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High-precision pulsar timing relies on a solar system ephemeris in order to convert times of arrival (TOAs) of pulses measured at an observatory to the solar system barycenter. Any error in the conversion to the barycentric TOAs leads to a systematic variation in the observed timing residuals; specifically, an incorrect planetary mass leads to a predominantly sinusoidal variation having a period and phase associated with the planet's orbital motion about the Sun. By using an array of pulsars (PSRs J0437-4715, J1744-1134, J1857+0943, J1909-3744), the masses of the planetary systems from Mercury to Saturn have been determined. These masses are consistent with the best-known masses determined by spacecraft observations, with the mass of the Jovian system, 9.547921(2) x 10(-4) M(circle dot), being significantly more accurate than the mass determined from the Pioneer and Voyager spacecraft, and consistent with but less accurate than the value from the Galileo spacecraft. While spacecraft are likely to produce the most accurate measurements for individual solar system bodies, the pulsar technique is sensitive to planetary system masses and has the potential to provide the most accurate values of these masses for some planets.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)L201-L205
Number of pages5
JournalThe Astrophysical Journal Letters
Issue number2
Early online date23 Aug 2010
Publication statusPublished - 10 Sep 2010
Externally publishedYes

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