The characteristics of millisecond pulsar emission. I. Spectra, pulse shapes, and the beaming fraction

Michael Kramer, Kiriaki M. Xilouris, Duncan R. Lorimer, Oleg Doroshenko, Axel Jessner, Richard Wieleninski, Alexander Wolszczan, Fernando Camilo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

229 Scopus citations


The extreme physical conditions in millisecond pulsar magnetospheres, as well as an evolutionary history that differs from that of normal pulsars, raise the question whether these objects also differ in their radio emission properties. We have monitored a large sample of millisecond pulsars for a period of 3 yr using the 100 m Effelsberg radio telescope in order to compare the radio emission properties of these two pulsar populations. Our sample comprises a homogeneous data set of very high quality. With some notable exceptions, our findings suggest that the two groups of objects share many common properties. A comparison of the spectral indices between samples of normal and millisecond pulsars demonstrates that millisecond pulsar spectra are not significantly different from those of normal pulsars. This is contrary to what has previously been thought. There is evidence, however, that millisecond pulsars are slightly less luminous and less efficient radio emitters than normal pulsars. We confirm recent suggestions that a diversity exists among the luminosities of millisecond pulsars, with the isolated millisecond pulsars being less luminous than the binary millisecond pulsars, implying that the different evolutionary history has an influence on the emission properties. There are indications that old millisecond pulsars exhibit somewhat flatter spectra than the presumably younger ones. We present evidence that, contrary to common belief, the millisecond pulsar profiles are only marginally more complex than those found among the normal pulsar population. Moreover, the development of the profiles with frequency is rather slow, suggesting very compact magnetospheres. The profile development seems to anticorrelate with the companion mass and the spin period, again suggesting that the amount of mass transfer in a binary system might directly influence the emission properties. The angular radius of radio beams of millisecond pulsars does not follow the scaling predicted from a canonical pulsar model applicable for normal pulsars. Instead, they are systematically smaller, supporting the concept of a critical rotational period below which such a scaling ceases to exist. The smaller inferred luminosity and narrower emission beams will need to be considered in future calculations of the birthrate of the Galactic population.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)270-285
Number of pages16
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1 PART I
StatePublished - 1998

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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