Using Relativistic Raytracing &X-Rays To See Detail on Surface Of Neutron Star

Vote for this video by social sharing!
Neutron Stars are so small and distant that no conventional telescope could ever resolve their surfaces, but by using precise X-Ray timing and energy information it’s possible to build models of the neutron star and figure out what the surface must look like.

Neutron Star Graphics from

Universe Sandbox


Most of the diagrams are from the paper:

NICER VIEW OF PSR J0030+0451: MILLISECOND PULSAR PARAMETER ESTIMATIONT. E. Riley,1A. L. Watts,1S. Bogdanov,2P. S. Ray,3R. M. Ludlam,4, 5S. Guillot,6, 7Z. Arzoumanian,8C. L. Baker,9A. V. Bilous,1D. Chakrabarty,10K. C. Gendreau,8A. K. Harding,11W. C. G. Ho,12, 13J. M. Lattimer,14S. M. Morsink,15and T. E. Strohmayer
Available at:

This is one of several papers on NICER in the latest issue of the Astronomical Journal Letters

  1. brian554xx

    Yo mama so fat, observers can see more than 50% of her surface from any angle!
    (needs work, but it has potential for use among people familiar with relativity)

  2. Mike Dunigan

    So…you’re going to frame drag my Doppler shifting refracted highly energetic electromagnetic waves?
    Well you didn’t count on me building this tiny box! Take that reality you can’t hide your secrets forever.

  3. Asger Vestbjerg

    Impressive work they have done
    Thanks for sharing👍😀

  4. Andrew Singleton

    dark dark dark dark OHGOdMYEYEBALLSGODWHY?!

  5. Calvin Odbert

    I am usually missing something when I feel this way but feels like a really cool waste of supercomputer time. Still cool but scientists *usually* don’t do things for the cool factor. Maybe for the lulz but…

  6. Eltaurus

    The result at 6:47 does look like a flag of Turkey at some point.

  7. Tom F

    That superhero landing, lol

  8. HKG5sentsp

    2 seconds ago

  9. Kyle Courtois

    Haha excellent grammar in the thumbnail Scott

  10. MIMIK

    Amazing video once again! Love your work, and considering you have ~99.25% liked:disliked ratio I am not alone :D
    I had to recommend this one to a variety of fellow climbers because of hero landing @ 3:24 :D

  11. Jürgen Ruut

    You are going to get 1 million subscribers within this decade! :O

  12. Arie Creson

    No body is going to mention how the pattern resembles that of a star and crescent?? 6:43

  13. zebo -t-f

    Impressive :)

  14. Radio Active

    This was one of the NICER youtube videos Scott Manley has done.

  15. wingracer 16

    What happens if you get this data out onto a tray?
    If you crack it open with a can opener, does it make a nicer hiss?
    I’ll stop now.

  16. Stillavantis S

    You mentioned frame dragging, it would be awesome if you could talk about the Gravity Probe B mission launched April 20th, 2004.

  17. AndyTom

    I love that you used the Elite Dangerous Galaxy map to show us where it was.

  18. TWJ

    Is it just me or is the music at the end of every Scott Manley video unreasonably loud?

  19. Kyle Reeping

    As for “we don’t know if this model is correct.” While yes, but we, as scientists, have to apply Occam’s razor to these solutions. So while yes, the solution we come up with may or may not be 100% accurate to reality, it DOES produce the effects we see. It’s like arguing that 6*10 = 60 isn’t REALLY true because (2*3) * ((3^2)+1) = 60 is ALSO true. Yes, they are both 100% true, but we have no idea which is the correct, real to life answer if someone asks us “What equation can be used to get a result of 60?” There are literally an infinite number of equations that fit that description. Therefore we must choose the simplest one that makes sense and fits the data well and resign ourselves to know that the answer may not be 100% what reality is, but at least our answer mimics the real life answer well enough as to be indistinguishable with our current data set. . In gen. chem. lab, we’re always taught that sure, you COULD fit that data with a 5th order polynomial, but does that really make sense when you’re plotting a pressure vs. volume graph? No, it’s more likely that our instruments have a bit of error in them. I believe the rule of thumb in science is that you shouldn’t add an order of complexity to an equation fitting unless it improves the “fit” (aka the R^2 value) by 2 orders of magnitude or more. Regardless, super super cool insight into the inner workings of a neutron star.

  20. Josh swimmerly

    Yeah light rays, get bent!!

  21. Keldor314

    This reminds me of the algorithms used to map subterranian features (e.g. when looking for oil). In those cases, they set off explosives at specific positions, then listen to the echo of the sound they make as they travel through the earth and eventually some of them come back to the listener. A lot like a very large scale ultrasound, but since there aren’t any well defined surfaces underground, they have to use a ray tracing algorithm to progressively refine guesses, just like the astronomers are doing with the neutron stars.

  22. Kameron Briggs

    Relativistic raytracing…. score one for graphics programmers ;)

  23. Raymond Mucklow

    How about that magnetic north moving from Canada to “predicted” Russia

  24. Matt Bragg

    “Neutron Star” by Larry Niven is by far one of the best short stories I have ever read; if any of yall have not read it do yourself a favor and add it to your reading list.

  25. kishore almaji

    so, basically it’s God’s fidget spinner with 1200 rpm

  26. Deez Nuttes

    dad jokes on point today my dude

  27. Necronomicon

    Sounds like some serious signal massaging to me!

  28. Random Martian

    You should use space engine for your videos more often

  29. LabWrangler

    Well, that was certainly NICER than some of your other videos. LOL at the end… Thanks for sharing more for my neutron star files, keep up the good work!

  30. Rod Schmidt

    I can see how they map longitude by looking at the timing of signals, but how do they determine the latitute of anything?

  31. WoofCaptain

    Human ingenuity never fails to baffle me.

  32. Ramon Sauls

    plays games so u can help the scientists XD

  33. Wrod of Dog

    Where is the footage around 3:17 from?

  34. PbPomper

    200 revolutions per second. Think about that. Incredible amount of energy and momentum!

  35. Zagroseckt

    Did you just use elite dangerous as a star chart O.o
    I totaly lost it laughing and ive got a cold this hirts so good :p :)

  36. Ross2d-2

    Absolutely amazing how clever this technology is. It astounds me that some of our species believe that the Earth is flat when others are so advanced.

  37. Jay The Amazing Toaster

    Hey Scott, can you do a video better explaining frame-dragging and their effects with black holes and neutron stars. I’d love to know more about this effect.

  38. Jay St. Clair

    Watching this channel makes me feel really stupid. All of this went over my head.

  39. Kenneth Suchy

    Hahaha using Elite Dangerous map! Amazing!

  40. Khorzho

    Wow Scott… you pulled out every Astronomy-oriented app out there for this video. Very cool.

  41. DFPercush

    Alright, looks like I have to be that guy.
    *Smack lips* … Noice!

  42. Ricardo Becerra

    How the h…l did they do it! Amazing

  43. Dark Knighte Apologeticz

    Awesome science. Yay, science. I like learning. Merry Xmas.

  44. The Skywolf

    Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who discovered the first Pulsar held a colloquium at my university, it was cool to see her and know how she came up with the first concepts of what those weird quasars were.
    Awesome video ✌️

  45. Efstathios Dimopoulos

    Relativistic ray tracing was used (partially) for the movie Interstellar

  46. WimsicleStranger

    6:15 I’ll be that guy…Is the sphere spinning clockwise or counter-clockwise?

  47. MrKKUT1984

    1:39 kinda looks like elite dangerous or is it?

  48. L Dewey

    Amazing topic! Great presentation!

  49. sulijoo

    It makes me wonder how long they actually spend on thinking of a friendly acronym for their latest gizmo. It couldn’t be NICER. 😁

  50. Tony Semenuk


  51. Philip

    love the elite dangerous cartography :)

  52. Laura Halliday

    Fascinating. Stuff like this makes me want to go back to school and be part of it.

  53. Penultimate Hortator

    THIS is Ceti Alpha Five!!!

  54. geonerd

    Cool! I saw the news blurb and was wondering “HTH do you image a neutron star?!”

  55. bisbeejim

    Are all the photons spinning (on their axis) in the same direction when coming off the neutron star?

  56. John Johansen

    3:55 Hmmm.
    Actually, I’m sure that it’s spacetime that’s bended, not light itself.
    Light always travels in straight lines, in a curved spacetime.

  57. ThatJeweler Guy

    The number of nicer puns you managed in this was impressive

  58. Oscar Charlie

    325 parsecs? The Millenium Falcon did it in only 12 parsecs.
    I’ll get my coat.

  59. 666Tomato666

    @1:51 gotta love it when a scientific video is using a game to illustrate the topic at hand

  60. Rye Fungus

    I’ve actually come to a very similar conclusion myself. Its quantum.. the results will not always be identical

  61. Bart Blewanus

    325 parsecs? Thats MUTCH faster than the Millennium Falcon!!

  62. A Well Dressed Male Papaya

    Wow, so amazing!

  63. David Messer

    I might just fly out there in Elite: Dangerous to see what it actually looks like.

  64. FaLLeN ReBeL

    Love the starship intros it just makes everything seem that much more relevant

  65. Sean McDonough

    6:06 – So they ran it on one supercomputer for about three minutes or so?

  66. Mike Cross

    FYI for folks like me, 1 parsec = ~3.26 light years

  67. I like to discuss

    Since when is Starship in the intro? 😲

  68. Unknow0059

    3:12 dude, I’m a gamer.
    4:38 god, I didn’t know that was a thing, but I’m not surprised.

  69. FireballStarfish

    7:20 that’s basically all of physics in a nutshell

  70. Bradley Ott

    This is truly amazing, I’m extremely excited for the future of astronomy and space. I foresee amazing things on the horizon!!!!

  71. Andy Wright

    It’s fitting that Scott Manley is a manly sounding Scot.

  72. Hadinos Sanosam

    1:37 Using the E:D map xD

  73. Christian

    “Very dead, very quickly”, I love this:-)

  74. Greg Ewing

    5:33 Update: The researchers have analysed their latest data and concluded that the pulsar is actually a Death Star.

  75. Sean McDonough

    8:08 – I knew it – neutron stars are powered by magic!

  76. Killercow Man

    There’s more than one way to skin a neutron star 🤷‍♂️

  77. feynthefallen

    You are using the term “Detail on the surface” _very_ loosely here…

  78. Kevin Street

    You’re really good at this, Scott. Thank you for this video where you take a very complex subject and break it down in an understandable way. I think I’m going to watch the video again tomorrow just to experience that feeling of understanding a second time.

  79. George Krajcsovits

    Wow, I just realized that we actually know in which direction the pulsar is rotating as we can detect which side show more redshift. Is this true for regular stars as well?

  80. iedreams

    Love the comment. “You’d be very dead very quickly.”

  81. DoritoPanda1423

    Neutron Stars are some of the smallest objects in the universe
    Well, Relatively speaking

  82. Igor Gylycheyev

    So this is the name of the technique that I use when I forget a formula in physics exam, just try adding, subtracting, multiplying the numbers untill it become similar to the answer choices

  83. Honesty Counts

    4:02 = “of course you probably wouldn’t notice as you would be VERY DEAD very quickly”
    LOL !!!

  84. Gord Slater

    i’m pissed…… mind: blown:totally
    edit : like… totally

  85. Tom Chan

    Never clicked so fast

  86. randomnickify

    Random Elite is random :)

  87. ThisAccountWasOnlyMadeToComment

    Ten years from now:
    *What that shit actually looks like*

  88. Graknorke

    “You have no guarentee that just because you’ve found one thing that works, that you’re not going to find something else that works.”
    Well that’s just science isn’t it.

  89. Bongo Baggins

    “Of course, you wouldn’t notice because you’d be very dead.”
    I laughed out loud at that

  90. James Robinson

    Things have moved on a lot since I spent a week looking at the Crab pulsar back in 2000. We had an intensified CCD camera with the scan rate synced to the spin of the pulsar through a spectrometer, so as each photon arrived you’d build up a 2D image of the phase if the spin on one axis and the wavelength on the other. We could just pick out the visible emission from the pulsar from the nebula. Mon.Not.RAS 319 (2), 414-418

  91. Anamnesia

    “…the light rays can *_Get Bent_* !”

  92. bazoo513

    That extra hotspot might be a Cheela space elevator :o)

  93. 64h5dsf14j6s41h5s4j5

    0:45 so it has the same angular size as a speck of dust on the moon observed from earth. 20 km at a distance of 325 pc has the same angular size as 0.76μm at the distance of 384,400 km. Th’s like 1/100th of the width of a human hair.

  94. Kyle Reeping

    The image at 6:17 can be reversed in your mind like the ballerina girl if you just imagine that the inside is the outside and the outside is the inside. Meaning you can make it rotate either way.

  95. Adrian Todd

    That pun at the end though…

  96. Atom Sorcerer

    “Although you probably wouldn’t notice because you would be very dead very quickly.”
    This feels like it came from Douglas Adams.

  97. Craig Corson

    If anyone’s wondering, 325 parsecs is just over 1,060 light years.

  98. JoyphobicOnline Reborn

    I’m speechless by how much data scientists can collect on something so small so far away. Really amazing job

  99. jb76489

    “Light Rays can get bent” I had no idea Scott disliked light rays so much

  100. DanatronOne

    Just did some quick calculations on that size, 0.1 nanoarcseconds is roughly equivalent to, from earth, detecting surface features on a bacteriophage on the surface of the moon.
    neutron star apparent width 0.0000000001 arcseconds
    moon apparent width 1860 arcseconds (31 arcminutes)
    neutron stars per moon: 18600000000000
    moon width (km): 3474.2
    neutron star width (if at moon distance with same angular size): 0.0000000001868
    = 0.000186785
    = 186.785 nm
    bacteriophage width: ~200 nanometers (so slightly bigger). Or about 500 times smaller than the width of a human hair.
    sources: (moon angular size) (moon diameter) (bacteriophage and hair sizes)

Comments are closed.