An oscillator is a pattern that is a predecessor of itself. That is, it is a pattern that repeats itself after a fixed number of generations (known as its period). The term is usually restricted to finite patterns that are not still lifes, though still lifes may be thought of as oscillators with period 1. An oscillator is divided into a rotor and a stator.
Cellular automaton theory recognizes shift periodicity, which refers to a configuration reappearing in shifted form after a lapse of one or more generations. Without the shift, it is an oscillator, but if it moves it would be called a glider or spaceship. Strictly speaking "glider" means the little figure so prevalent in Conway's Game of Life, but the more general usage has now become popular.
Important oscillators by period
A list of the first-discovered oscillator of each period, as well the current smallest-known oscillator of that period, is provided here. Note that only non-trivial oscillators are considered here, in the sense that there must be at least one cell that oscillates at the full period. In some cases, it is not known for certain what the first-discovered oscillator of a given period is, and in such situations all possible candidates are listed. For any period 61 or greater an oscillator can be constructed using the Herschel track method. In April, 2013 Mike Playle found a small 90-degree stable reflector that allows oscillators of all periods 43 or greater to be constructed.