We argue that both the positron fraction measured by PAMELA and the peculiar spectral features reported in the total electron-positron flux measured by ATIC have a very natural explanation in electron-positron pairs produced by nearby pulsars. While this possibility was pointed out a long time ago, the greatly improved quality of current data potentially allow to reverse-engineer the problem: given the regions of pulsar parameter space favored by PAMELA and by ATIC, are there known pulsars that explain the data with reasonable assumptions on the injected electron-positron pairs? In the context of simple benchmark models for estimating the electron-positron output, we consider all known pulsars, as listed in the most complete available catalogue. We find that it is unlikely that a single pulsar be responsible for both the PAMELA positron fraction anomaly and for the ATIC excess, although two single sources are in principle enough to explain both experimental results. The PAMELA excess positrons likely come from a set of mature pulsars (age ∼ × 106 yr), with a distance of 0.8–1 kpc, or from a single, younger and closer source like Geminga. The ATIC data require a larger (and less plausible) energy output, and favor an origin associated to powerful, more distant (1–2 kpc) and younger (age ∼ × 5 × 105 yr) pulsars. We list several candidate pulsars that can individually or coherently contribute to explain the PAMELA and ATIC data. Although generally suppressed, we find that the contribution of pulsars more distant than 1–2 kpc could contribute for the ATIC excess. Finally, we stress the multi-faceted and decisive role that Fermi-LAT will play in the very near future by (1) providing us with an exquisite measurement of the electron-positron flux, (2) unveiling the existence of as yet undetected gamma-ray pulsars, and (3) searching for anisotropies in the arrival direction of high-energy electrons and positrons.
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