A newly discovered fast-moving pulsar streaking across the galaxy with enormous x-ray jets, defies the laws of physics, according to scientists.There are two red flags here.
First, things don't defy the laws of physics. Something can defy explanation within some particular model or theory. When this is the case, a journalist should just say which observation defied explanation by which model or theory!
Second, there is no such group as scientists to which things can accord. When reporting on a published paper, a journalist should name at least the lead author and include the title of the paper as a link to the paper. Here's how it's done:
The paper in question is titled The long helical jet of the Lighthouse nebula, IGR J11014-6103 by Lucia Pavan et al.
I've found that tantalizing and vague language doesn't earn the reader's trust or attention. It only serves to alienate readers who would take the article seriously. I think that should include just about all of them! Why would anyone bother reading the science section unless they are ready to take it seriously?
Red flags aside, the statement is also false. This pulsar, known as the Lighthouse Nebula (designated IGR J11014-6103) was discovered back in 2011! It's no more newly discovered than the first Thor movie. Oh, and in the article, its name was mistyped the star's designation! (UPDATE: I sent a letter to the editor and they promptly fixed this typo.)
Anyway, the article goes on to quote Miroslav Filipovic, coauthor on the 2011 and 2014 papers:
One of the biggest mysteries is that we only see these jets in x-rays, there's no radio signature, that's totally shocking to us ... this is extremely difficult to explain through any theories we have at the moment.Okay, two things.
Right panel shows the Lighthouse Nebula's radio signature.
A possible radio counterpart positionally coincident with the source was also identified.
Second, the data are not at all difficult to explain. That's the whole point of the paper! You see, a 2012 paper proposed that this pulsar was propelled to a high velocity by its neighbor that went supernova. What's new in this 2014 paper is fitting both X-ray and radio data to a model of the pulsar's spin and velocity.
|The radio and X-ray profiles peak at different positions.|
This can be explained by the cooling of the emitting particles.
Alignment favors a pulsar high velocity greater than 1,000 km/s.
Think of the jets like the smoke coming from a train's smoke stack. It's really hot when it first shoots out, then expands and cools, forming a slowly fading tail as its source zips on ahead.
This is a great paper. It shows how subtle clues can reveal the nature of an incredibly distant object. You don't have to see the pulsar in detail to know which direction its jets are facing, or how fast it's moving. Science rules!
But this spectacular deductive reasoning is utterly lost to readers of the news article. It's a tragedy of incompetence. Sure, readers get a puff of mystery that alights their human urge to discover. But they won't be given the satisfaction of actual discovery.
Even after reading all three papers, I feel similarly unsatisfied by a question that keeps coming back to me. Why does this news article go out of its way to make Filipovic sound oblivious to the paper's very thesis?
This question really has me scratching my head.
UPDATE: As you can read in the comments below, Miroslav has kindly explained to me that the first picture above is actually the pulsar wind nebula, not one of the the pulsar jets. The pulsar wind nebula is a standing shock wave of charged particles accelerated by the magnetic field, but is an independent feature from the pair of jets. This wind shows up clearly in the radio spectrum. More importantly, Miroslav was correct that there's no radio source of the jets, themselves! My bad.
Though I'm yet to be convinced that a missing jet radio signal is truly unexpected, since the paper seems to indicate otherwise. Also, this quote from the ABC article seems to conflate the radio signal from the jets with any signal from the pulsar itself:
Pulsars were first discovered because of their characteristic radio signals, so this is extremely difficult to explain through any theories we have at the moment.These quotes have me scratching my head, too:
It's impossible to easily explain all these crazy things we've seen in this object.Not according to the paper!
One of the problems is, it's impossible to prove any of these ideas.Not something you do in science!