A magnetic monster's dual personality

July 16, 2012
A magnetic monster's dual personality
Credits: ESA-C. Carreau

(Phys.org) -- Is it a magnetar or is it a pulsar? A second member of a rare breed of dead, spinning star has been identified thanks to an armada of space-based X-ray telescopes, including ESA’s XMM-Newton. Its curious behaviour is illustrated in this animation.

Magnetars are a type of neutron star, the dead cores of massive that have collapsed in on themselves after burning up all their fuel and exploding as dramatic supernovas.

They typically display bright, persistent X-ray emission and the most intense magnetic fields known in the Universe.

Pulsars meanwhile are spinning neutron stars with much lower magnetic fields than magnetars that appear to pulse radio waves as they rotate rapidly.

The pulses are seen when beams of radiation rotate through our line of sight from Earth, rather like the sweeping beam of a lighthouse.

The recently discovered star appears to be a hybrid of these two stellar breeds: the spinning stellar skeleton appears as a pulsar while hiding an intense internal magnetic field much like a .

The internal field is many times stronger than its external magnetic field, leading to its entry into the new class of ‘low-field magnetars’.

As this animation illustrates, the turbulent interior arises as a result of twisted lines.

As the field lines unwind, energy is released as a steady burst of X-rays through fractures in the star’s ‘crust’.

Only two examples of low-field magnetars are known. The first was discovered in 2010 and the second in July 2011, given away by short X-ray bursts that were detected by NASA’s Swift space .

NASA’s Rossi X-Ray Timing Explorer and Chandra X-ray Observatory, ESA’s XMM-Newton and Japan’s Suzaku satellite, as well as the ground-based Gran Telescopio Canarias and the Green Bank Telescope, were alerted and the star’s activity was monitored until April 2012, during which time the outburst began to decay.

The discovery of a second member of this rare family of star strengthens the idea that magnetar-like behaviour may be much more widespread than believed in the past.

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3.7 / 5 (3) Jul 16, 2012
Where is the animation?
5 / 5 (1) Jul 16, 2012
I also see no animation; just a jpeg.
5 / 5 (7) Jul 16, 2012
Animation on original article:
1.4 / 5 (9) Jul 17, 2012
Re: "They typically display bright, persistent X-ray emission and the most intense magnetic fields known in the Universe."

We have x-rays and we have intense magnetic fields. We also know that the electric force is 10^36 times stronger than the gravitational force. So, why again is gravity responsible for what's being observed? Can somebody please clarify the source of the certainty with this? Because, it's easy to see for most that the spinning lighthouse notion is an inference (even though the simple act of identifying it is not respected in these articles as useful for the public ...). And if you are seeing violations of the categories involved, then why in the world are people not questioning the underlying inference being made?

If scientists always look to the textbook theory to determine what inferences to consider and investigate, then aren't they simply avoiding asking the critical questions whose answers might cast doubt upon the preferred scientific framework?
1.9 / 5 (9) Jul 17, 2012
When do we start to train students to compare and contrast scientific frameworks? It's funny, but people seem to think that students ordinarily and spontaneously learn how to think critically in such complex ways by following the problem-solving recipes. Do you guys realize that this will not happen?

Does anybody truly think that we can make serious progress in cosmology and astrophysics by simply considering the preferred set of inferences? If you just ignore that which you don't agree with, then isn't this the classic definition of groupthink?

I would imagine that a healthy science would be one where scientists are always fluent in all of the competing frameworks out there, so that they can amass a serious-minded database of alternative inferences. But, as much as I try, and for as long as I observe, I never see any attempt to even understand what those other competing inferences are.

It simply appears that vast numbers of inferences are essentially treated as "out of bounds".
1.6 / 5 (7) Jul 17, 2012
From http://www.youtub...bQEq4kEE

Peter Woit:

"Our fundamental problem with unification is that a certain number of ideas have been tried out which all have well-known problems -- and string theory is now one of them. But there's a lot of things that haven't been tried If you start to get to know the subject, you realize the number of people working on the subject It's a fairly limited community. It's a few thousand people And most of them are kind of following the lead of a fairly small number of people. The number of actual different ideas that people are trying out is actually quite small There's a much larger array of ideas out there which nobody has taken the time to look into because the way the field works These things are very difficult. You would have to go spend several years of your life doing this, and if no one else is interested in what you're doing (and most likely, whenever you're trying out new ideas, it's not going to work anyways)" ...
2.1 / 5 (7) Jul 17, 2012
... "The way the field is structured, it's kind of very very hard to do that kind of work, because it's likely to damage your career. If you're trying to do it when you're young, you're gonna very well end up not having a job."


If people refuse to learn enough about the competing paradigms sufficient to even understand what those competing inferences would be, do not be surprised when conventional wisdom seems most likely.

If people refuse to listen to critics, critical thinking is not happening.

The way in which people collectively approach science can completely determine the result. At its most fundamental level, science is a collection of people.

If people want to imagine that the process of science somehow protects us from human biases, then there exists a burden to at least actively try to prevent those biases from manifesting in the inferential step. When all we see are dismissals of competing frameworks, it's testament to the sloppiness of this inferential step.
4.6 / 5 (9) Jul 17, 2012
When do we start to train students to compare and contrast scientific frameworks? It's funny, but people seem to think that students ordinarily and spontaneously learn how to think critically in such complex ways by following the problem-solving recipes. Do you guys realize that this will not happen?

Where I studied, science 101 was compulsory for all science students. This included the history, philosophy and methods of science and reason, basic logic, critical thinking, induction, deduction, empiricism etc.

It simply appears that vast numbers of inferences are essentially treated as "out of bounds"

Only if they don't fit the facts, are internally inconsistent or lack predictive power. Not all inferences are equal.
1 / 5 (4) Jul 17, 2012
"Only if they don't fit the facts, are internally inconsistent or lack predictive power. Not all inferences are equal."

There are no facts, only widely excepted conjectures.
1.7 / 5 (6) Jul 17, 2012
Re: "Only if they don't fit the facts, are internally inconsistent or lack predictive power. Not all inferences are equal."

Okay, but have you noticed that people are not reading anything which disagrees with "the experts"? Without the desire to read against-the-mainstream materials, none of the evaluation you mention here ever has a chance to occur.

It's rare to find people online who are not taking shortcuts in the evaluation of novel scientific theories. I would go so far as to say that authentic critical thinking is in fact extremely rare. And we don't have to wonder at what is going on. One need only read physics education research to see that students are not understanding the concepts of physics. To be clear, it is absolutely impossible to critically think about physics if you fail to understand the concepts.

Just watch one of Eric Mazur's YouTube lectures if you have your doubts. The problem is widespread and apparent at our most prestigious undergrad programs.
1.7 / 5 (6) Jul 17, 2012
"Confessions of a Converted Lecturer"
Eric Mazur
(Harvard undergrad physics professor)

From http://www.youtub...lBPj8GgI

1:01:51 - 1:02:38
"This means that better understanding leads to better problem solving. Makes sense in hindsight, right? But -- and this is the most important message I want to leave you with -- the converse of this statement is not true. Good problem solving does not necessarily mean understanding. I had been fooling myself for many years to believe that I was an effective professor, based upon the performance of my students. But, after all, it was just a house of cards. They were just plugging and chugging And other studies have shown that retention is very, very low when you learn problem-solving by rote."

13:22 - 13:29
"In other words, it doesn't make any difference what we do in front of the students, they learn next to nothing." [laughter]
1 / 5 (4) Jul 17, 2012
26:44 - 27:18
"So, I would argue that there's much more that needs to happen than just delivering information. And the fact that delivering information was not enough became clear when I gave this FCI. What is it that needs to happen?What needs to happen is that the student needs to make sense of the information, build mental models - not just remembering facts, but try to understand it and build mental models that you can use in other contexts. I would call that assimilating the information."

28:34 - 29:54
"Anybody scoring below 23 has no clue of Newtonian mechanicsIs still, partially, an Aristotelian thinkerNow, notice that the incoming students at Harvard, most of whom had a 5 on an AP physics exam, are still Aristotelian thinkersHere is the post-class distribution. Okay, yeah, there is some gain. But, notice that still more than 50% of the class scores 23 or lowerThey have not understood the material taught in week 2, upon which everything else hinges."
1 / 5 (4) Jul 17, 2012
If you put your blinders on, and accept the specialist role which is being offered to you, so that you can properly fit into the organism of society, unless you go out of your way to cultivate an interdisciplinary education for yourself, what you are giving up is a chance to size up competing theories, to think critically about textbook physics, and to learn about the known problems of the physics and physics education institutions.

When people on physorg speak up on matters of cosmology and astrophysics, they generally do so from a specialist's perspective. And needless to say, the specialist's perspective is *always* to lean on established theories outside of their tiny slice of expertise.

What is good for corporations and governments can be devastating for a person's ability to discuss inherently interdisciplinary subjects like cosmology and astrophysics. Jeff Schmidt has written extensively about this within his book Disciplined Minds.

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