Spaceships could use blinking dead stars to chart their way

illustration of SEXTANT
NASA’s SEXTANT experiment demonstrated a stellar version of GPS, finding the experiment’s location with an apparatus consisting of 52 X-ray telescopes (illustrated) on the International Space Station.

OXON HILL, Md. — Future spacecraft could navigate by the light of dead stars.

Using only the timing of radiation bursts from pulsating stellar corpses, an experiment on the International Space Station was able to pinpoint its location in space in a first-ever demonstration. The technique operates like a stellar version of GPS, researchers with the Station Explorer for X-ray Timing and Navigation Technology experiment, SEXTANT, reported at a news conference January 11 during a meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

Known as pulsars, the dead stars emit beams of…

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