Thursday, July 5, 2012

Fastest Pulsar In The Galaxy

How fast you ask?

We'll get to that.  A pulsar is a spinning, magnetized neutron star that is detected by its pulsating emissions of radio light and X-rays.  A neutron star is the Manhattan-sized sphere of extremely dense matter left over after a star more than 1.38 solar masses but less than ten solar masses goes supernova.

The sort of supernova that creates a neutron star occurs when a star is massive enough to make the inevitable mistake of attempting to fuse the iron formed at its core as it approaches the end of its life.  Where other stages of stellar evolution can take millions of years this final step lasts only moments.  Fusing iron consumes energy rather than creating it so the energy pressing outward from within the star is suddenly insufficient to resist the gravitational forces attempting to crush the star.  The shell of the star collapses upon the core, is repulsed by quantum degeneracy pressure, and the star disintegrates in a flash of light brighter than its host galaxy.

The pint-size, super-dense core (a tablespoon of the stuff weighs 900 time as much as the Great Pyramid or ten million tons, if you prefer) at the center of this catastrophe conserves the angular momentum of the destroyed star so a neutron star spins on its axis from one to a thousand times a second, while giving off beams of radio waves and x-rays from its magnetic poles.  Depending on where the beam is pointing it can be perceived as a staccato rhythm as the stream of electromagnetic radiation rotates by.

Interestingly, if a supernova occurs in a lop-sided manner, the neutron star can be spit out of the center of the exploding star.  Of course, "spit out" means different things in different neighborhoods.  IGR J1104-6103 is the not so clever name assigned to the neutron star ejected from supernova remnant SNR MSH 11-61A seen in the picture above.  It's zipping away at 6 million miles an hour.  Imagine a cannonball the size of New York City that weighs more than our sun making the trip from the Earth to Mars in about 5 minutes.  Yep, pretty snappy.  In the photo above pulsar IGR J1104-610 is at the narrow end of the green comet-like smudge.  That smudge is a wake of x-rays created by the passage of the neutron star through space.  The wake is three light years long! 

In the mean time, the superheated, massively irradiated shell of the star, bubbling with all the elements needed to create nebula, next generation stars, new planets, and life in the universe, is cast upon the galactic deep in the form of a supernova remnant.  In the fullness of time the universe is seeding itself with all the ingredients it needs to make us.

"We are star stuff.  We are the universe made manifest trying to figure out itself."

Pretty neat.

Those Who Love America Best

Are not always its cheerleaders...

On the occasion of our Independence Day holiday 2012 I was reminded that the 4th of July has not always been a celebration of freedom and liberty for all Americans, and that we have not always abided by our founding principles or lived up to the promises we've made to ourselves, our nation, or the world.  Some times we are fortunate enough to be graced with prophets and gadflies, orators and poets, who remind us we are "not all that."

For this I am thankful to the Black Skeptics Independence Day post, What, to the Slave, is Your Fourth of July? which excerpts from a powerful speech made by Frederick Douglass, on July 5, 1852.

Another post at Homeland Security Watch titled, Democratic Vistas: As fuel to flame, invites us to review Walt Whitman's 1870 essay Democratic Vistas.

All our national holidays seem to have become opportunities primarily to rest from our labors, gather with family and friends, consume frivolously, eat too much, and frequently drink too much.  Perhaps we should take at least a little time each holiday to evaluate whether there is a purpose behind our observation other than self-congratulation, fireworks, and a day off.  We can treat Independence Day as a perk, a privilege, or a prize; or we can regard it as a call to introspection, a chance to refresh our commitment to the principles upon which our Republic was founded, to examine where we came up short this year, and recommit ourselves to striving toward the excellence America is meant to be in the year to come.

Security or Safety

Protection and assurance; must we choose between them?

A peer at LinkedIn observes that Security and Safety are not complimentary disciplines.  

"I find the level of incongruity and degrees of mutual exclusivity inherent in the cultural, operational and functionalities of these two separate and divergent disciplines very frustrating."

My (somewhat revised) reply:

My experience differs from yours. Over the years I've worked on teams that combined both, I've administered both - directly and indirectly, and I've collaborated with safety peers in other segments of the management matrix. In my experience security and safety are complimentary disciplines. At several former employers and a variety of clients the two teams work hand in glove on issues of business assurance. This makes good sense to me as we are both in the protection business. Security protects people from the actions of others; safety protects people from harm due to hazards in the work environment. And we both respond to some of the same emergencies and liaise with similar public emergency service agencies.

In the past safety has enjoyed an advantage when it comes to funding and authority because they must first comply with a scientifically derived set of health and safety regulations. Security, having resisted the development and application of mandatory standards until recently, and which still struggles to justify the ROI calculation, has had to sell its programs differently. This challenge may be the fault of security leadership professionals, many of whom which have been slow to adopt a business orientation and failed to embrace the concept of dynamic risk. Many security managers, especially those who are reflexively risk averse, complain about being misunderstood when it may be they who have not taken the time to understand precisely how they can best forward the interests of the organization rather than simply “making sure nothing bad happens.”

Beyond the collaboration of security and safety disciplines I look forward to the integration of security - logical and physical, safety, environmental, compliance, audit, insurance, and perhaps even legal, under the Enterprise Risk Management model. If we in security do not find a way to be recognized as contributing to the bottom line we will forever be regarded as a regrettably necessary expense, and forever subject to the bean counters looking for ways to make the quarterly numbers and the procurement agents who think of our many services as an undifferentiated commodity best purchased for as little as possible.